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For our bodies we have gyms, and for our minds we have...brain fitness apps

Mark Sullivan | Jan. 14, 2014
Interest in "the quantified self" and a growing body of clinical research seem to point toward a bright future for brain fitness tech.

The puzzles were fun, though a little frustrating at times, and I liked how Dr. Kawashima tells you at the beginning of each one what brain function it will exercise. A newly added feature lets you play against a few friends.

Brain Age
Brain Age
is one of the better-known brain fitness apps, mainly because it grades your mental fitness level by calculating your "brain age" in years — a "younger" brain is better. Although this sounds like the Nintendo DS game mentioned above, the mobile Brain Age game is completely unrelated.

The puzzles come in three types: memory, concentration, and arithmetic. They're simple and colorful, like the one in which you're asked to click a set of colored balls in the order in which they appeared on the screen. The graphics aren't as good as on some of the other brain fitness apps I've played, but the games are fun to play.

A Clockwork Brain
The host of this popular brain fitness app is a brass-plated robot named Sprocket, who presides in a steampunk-style classroom. The iOS app has a limited free version and an expanded premium version ($3). You get 13 brain fitness exercises, designed to test various cognitive abilities such as visual, spatial, logic, language, arithmetic, and memory.

The games in A Clockwork Brain aren't radically different from the others here, but the lovingly crafted steampunk design makes the experience unique. And the fun factor is pretty high: You feel mentally tested while playing, but the exercises are so nicely gamified that A Clockwork Brain can start to get a little addictive.

Find what works for you
After doing some searches in the app stores, I found many, many apps that offer some sort of gamified brain exercise. Some of the apps were cleverly named to increase their likelihood of being mistaken for well-known apps like Brain Age. I came away thinking that there is probably no clearly superior brain fitness app or service. As in the physical exercise world, it comes down to finding the exercise that offers you a legitimate workout and yet is enjoyable enough to keep you coming back.

Finally, Dr. Hillis points out that computer- and phone-based brain fitness products are not the only way to keep your brain in shape. "It's not that people couldn't get this sort of stimulation on their own," Hillis says. "They can do it by doing things like playing bridge, learning a new language, or taking some other education course."

But Dr. Hillis believes that brain fitness apps do offer something that other types of brain exercise do not. "What these sites do offer is some structure, and people need structure. Most of these sites will record your performance for you. People want that kind of feedback. They want to know that they are making progress."


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