Exercise? Who Needs Exercise?

I always thought it was a scam. And now I have proof. Sort of.

The New York Times devoted its entire Science section to electronic gadgetry last Tuesday, and looked at all of those gizmos some of us are tempted to fondle at the local Apple store, Best Buy, or even a well-stocked Rite Aid.

You’ll have to read the section for yourself if you want to know how the desktop treadmill works, and how the various sleep thingamabobs handle things. As you can imagine,the newsroom staff had a pretty good time with the entire project.

The idea of trying to write while on a treadmill made me want to <<CAUTION!! DISGUSTING WRITING AHEAD!!>> lurf all over the place, and by that I mean vomit. I think that’s because I have such a poor sense of balance that the thought of trying to look at a computer monitor or a piece of paper while at the same time moving my feet rhythmically is not at all pleasant and I might lurf now just thinking about it. Let’s not think about it. <<END POSSIBLE LURFING AND DISGUSTING WRITING>>

What I thought was a scam, and what I now have proof of, sort of, and who needs exercise anyway, and I TOLD YOU SO! HAH! is found in an article in this Science section on page 2 called “Do Brain Workouts Work? Science Isn’t Sure.”

See? Hah!

I snarl Hah! because many people have very kindly and lovingly (and I mean this kindly) (and lovingly) suggested that I try one of the many online brain workout sites to try to get back some brainpower that I have lost since the stroke I had in August 2011. And I took their suggestions seriously and I tried them, and I don’t think I got any brainpower back. But I’m not sure either.

“Almost all the marketing claims made by all the companies go beyond the data,” said Dr. Murali Doraiswamy of Duke University, a neurocognitive disorders researcher quoted in the article.

Furthermore, the article noted that research has been conducted entirely on healthy individuals. One analysis of 23 studies concluded that if you practice game playing, you will get better at game playing—but only at that game, not at anything else. So much for Sudoku.

Marbled murrelet

Marbled murrelet

A study out of the University of Washington (known universally as “you-dub”)  shows that “older” “healthy” Americans can retain cognitive improvements for at least 10 years, if those improvements are attained via reasoning (listening to a lecture, for instance) or speed of processing (press the right button). The same study found that such improvements didn’t last if they were attained via sheer memorization.

And the sad news overall is that no matter how the cognitive improvement was made, the improvement didn’t carry over to any other area. So just because I listened to a talk on the marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus), that doesn’t mean I’m now an expert on the Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica).

Atlantic puffin

Atlantic puffin

They are both very cute, as you can see. And they could both use your help. The puffins are doing better than the murrelets these days, because they’ve gotten more attention.

This is one of the few times you will hear me cheerlead for anything on the Wrong Coast, which murrelets are, so if you have a spare check or a bank card crying in your wallet, now’s your chance.

Anyway, back to brain workouts. One little side note to this overall depressing article says that a recent study found that focusing on those falling objects in Tetris could calm your food cravings. No further information was provided. Such as: how far away was the ice cream?

There are more and more of these online brain train sites every week, it seems, and more and more of them want my money. That’s when I know I’m smart enough that I don’t need their games, and I move on.

Nevertheless, all of the hopeful entrepreneurs are gathering in San Francisco in May for a NeuroGaming Conference and Expo, no matter how unclear the research, to see how many dollars they can squeeze out of a gullible public.

Hey, we’ve been pushing buttons and squeezing triggers for years, just to make fake frogs cross fake streets and fake plumbers jump over fake mushrooms and fake candy flatten other fake candy.

“I’m not convinced there is a huge difference between buying a $300 subscription to a gaming company versus you yourself doing challenging things on your own, like attending a lecture or learning an instrument,” said Dr. Doraiswamy of Duke in the article.

Let me say it again: Hah! Really, what it comes down to is this: I don’t like those brain game sites. They are all sort of rosy and cute and invigorating. They go out of their way to not offend. They aren’t trying to teach me anything. They want me to stare at a little scene of a tree and a field and wait for a bird to appear and then click on the bird before it disappears. Depending on how fast I click on the bird, and how much faster I get at clicking on the bird each time it appears supposedly tells me how much “better” my brain is getting. Really?

Does this remind anyone of developmentally disabled kids stuffing envelopes for eight hours a day?

If this is cognitive improvement science at its best, I’ll keep going to talks on marbled murrelets. Shall I save you a seat?