I'm not taking any chances.
There are things that I know.
I know regular exercise strengthens my heart, my limbs–my entire body.
I know a sound diet–balanced, with limited sugars and fats–aids my overall health and complements my exercise regiment.
I know drinking water equal to half my body weight (in ounces) helps me counteract toxins and lose weight. (If only I could do it every day.)
I know I need (but rarely get) at least seven hours sleep.
I know flexibility is critical for optimal fitness, strength and healing. (So why don't I spend more time stretching after my workouts?!)
What I don't know is if so-called "brain games" actually help my brain.
I don't know if doing sudoku, chess and myriad other games–along with a daily crossword puzzle and some hangman–actually help me be smarter and, perhaps more important, stave off the mental effects of aging: memory loss and perhaps even Alzheimer's and dementia.
I don't know if, by doing mental squats and presses every day, I might eventually actually be able to help my kids with their homework.
Though I don't know for sure, I'm not taking any chances.
Because I know they don't hurt.
REMEMBER THE STUDIES
I know this because there are more studies than you can count (unless you go here) on the effects of games on the brain–whether they regenerate loss brain capacity or stymie future damage. And fortunately, most of them say, at least to some degree, yes–even if their results were largely based on the effects of brain games on rats.
A couple of years ago, during a study of healthy, older (I love that word; what the hell does it mean these days when 50 is the new 40?!) folks, respected researchers at the Mayo clinic found that their subjects benefited from a computer-game based program designed to boost brain processing–even those areas that were not specifically affected by the games.
Translation: Doing games designed to affect your motor skills (think thumb-based video games, such as, say, Call of Duty) also help boost your cognitive capacities.
You might start making quicker, better decision or, at minimum, you may even remember where you left your car keys.
FORGET THE STUDIES?
Of course there are numerous studies that show brain games produce only minimal effects. Last year it was reported that British researchers discovered "brain training" did not substantially improve overall brain functioning in healthy adults.
Another study even showed that mental stimulation among subjects 65+ who were already suffering from Alzheimer's actually accelerated their decline by a substantial 43% after initially slowing the effects of the disease.
In truth, most studies offer less-than-concrete evidence of an upside effect of, say, launching angry birds at pigs all day.
Or they only show that games make rats smarter. The rest of us–who knows?
But why take chances? I'm not.
Whether you're in your 40s, 50s (like me) or beyond, augment your health regiment with a few mind-benders. It might be as old-school simple as doing as much of the New York Times daily crossword puzzle as you can muster without beginning to think you are as dumb as your kids think you are.
It may be a few games of solitaire on your PDA or iPad. One of my favorite sites is Lumosity (found right here on Health Goes Strong), which has partnered with university researchers and health-care groups and created numerous games that, whether they're actually re-juicing my brain or not, are challenging and engaging.
For the bold, try an occasional math game, many of which are available free on the 'web.
Who knows, after awhile, you might even be able to help your kids with their homework.