March 14, 2008
ABC 7 (KGO) News
Staff Reporter

A new gym in San Francisco promises to make you healthier — by allowing your brain to get a workout.

It’s part of a growing industry aimed at keeping you mentally active.

Fifty-eight-year-old Susan Green is exercising her brain. It’s part of her new routine which she started for one simple reason.

“I just can’t remember things like I use to,” said Green.

Green is a member of vibrantBrains in San Francisco. It’s believed to be the country’s first brain gym, where people pay monthly dues to give their brain a work out.

Members can exercise every part of their brain, from executive functions to visual spatial skills.

“What I was taught was certain things go along with aging its inevitable. And what the research does show now is that it’s not inevitable. That we can exercise our brains the same way we can exercise our bodies,” said vibrantBrains founder and CEO Lisa Schoonerman.

The brain fitness market is growing fast. In fact, in 2007, it raked in $225 million dollars, that’s more than double from 2005.

Posit science in San Francisco is among the leaders of brain fitness products. But companies like Nintendo are cashing in too. Their game “Brain Age” has sold more than 10 million copies.

Industry experts say they expect even bigger business in the years to come — as concerns with Alzheimer’s and dementia continue to grow.

“Everyone knows the baby boomers are here, everyone is concerned with what happens to my memory. Well, they want to be proactive while doing something else,” said Alvaro Fernandez from Sharpbrains Consulting.

Research has shown that many of the programs on the market do in fact improve memory and other cognitive functions.

Still, Dale Bredesen of Buck Institute for Age research in Novato says long term mental health should involve a broad-based approach.

“It’s important to stay mentally active, but it’s also important to stay physically active. It’s also important to have the correct nutrition for example keeping your insulin levels low,” said Bredesen.

And experts say there are other ways to exercise the brain without relying on computer programs — learning to play an instrument or starting a new job can serve the same purpose.

Susan Green, however, says, she’ll stick with vibrantBrains, for now.

“What I’m noticing is I can really feel my brain working hard,” said Green.