When the most famous groundhog in the world, Punxsutawney Phil, comes out of his hole after a long winter’s hibernation and sees his shadow, it’s probably a pretty skinny one. When Phil pops out of his burrow, he’ll have lost almost half his body weight. Unfortunately for us, after a long winter, if we’ve been hibernating instead of getting out or working out, we’ll be casting a fat shadow! Our brains can hibernate too, and will atrophy just like muscle if not exercised.

Brain fitness is part of a healthy lifestyle, and brain-training software might be a great place to start. A wealth of programs for regular brain training feature a varied regimen of exercises that can build new neural connections and strengthen existing ones. Some research even suggests that regular brain training can postpone or lessen the severity of symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia. To stimulate the production of that “neural juice,” we previously talked about two of our favorites – PositScience and MarblestheBrainStore. Another worth mentioning is CogniFit. According to its founder, brain aerobics can “strengthen and grow neural connections and improve real-world skills like hand-eye coordination, perception, memory, and naming.”

Even the Kindle can work out the brain! Aside from its bookish attributes (another great exercise for the brain), there are an increasing number of games available at the Kindle Store. Recent additions include Brain Bump, a 99-cent literature trivia game that is fun, educational and includes an interactive multi-choice quiz  – always a good mind-stretch for the brain. Other brain exercisers are Scrabble, Easy Calculator (by Mobigloo), Match Genius (a memory puzzle game by Sonic Boom), and of course, one of the best-of-the-best, NY Times Crosswords (all levels of difficulty).

Although the brain makes up only a small part of the body, it can burn up to one-fifth of the calories you use in a day. This caloric expenditure is needed for cell-health maintenance and to fuel the powerhouse of billions of neurons that transmit non-stop electrical signals. So, yes, nutritious food is an important part of the brain aerobics equation.

Equally important after a physical or brain workout is the cool-down. Yawning not only exercises the jaw, but also is the coolest cool-down after a brain workout! Research out of University at Albany suggests that yawning cools the brain. The theory is that our brains operate efficiently and effectively when cool, like computers. And, therefore, the yawn is the brain’s air conditioner regulating brain temperature. You gotta love it!

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