Participating in mentally stimulating activities, especially activities that involve other people, may be good for the brain.

There’s no downside to including brain-challenging activities as part of your healthy living, unless “you spent $400 on some computer program that makes all sorts of wild claims about brain health,” says David Knopman, MD, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Knopman explains that brain fitness is influenced by many factors, including education and opportunities for mentally stimulating activities starting in childhood, and also by the presence or absence of depression, diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, and other risks.

Observational studies have shown that people who engage in mentally stimulating activities may be less likely to develop dementia. But Knopman notes that such studies don’t prove cause and effect, so it’s not clear if mentally stimulating activities protect against dementia or whether people with healthier brains are drawn to those activities in the first place.

That said, Knopman says, “I think that socially engaging activities are particularly important, and that’s why I’m somewhat skeptical about the various commercial entities that seek to sell computer games to stimulate the brain. … If that’s done to the exclusion of socially engaging activity, it’s probably counterproductive.”

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