Optimizing Brain Fitness

Course No. 1651
Professor Richard Restak, M.D.
The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences
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3.9 out of 5
158 Reviews
68% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 1651
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What Will You Learn?

  • Uncover the secrets of brain plasticity, and unlock the incredible potential of your mind.
  • Learn a wealth of exercises, challenges, and practice problems that will enhance your brain's essential functions.
  • Explore how memory is essential to superior brain health, and learn vital techniques for better retaining details.
  • Discover methods to improve your visual-spatial thinking, motor skills, creativity, and more.
  • Optimize your attention span and improve your skills in math, reading comprehension, and much more.
  • See how life experiences continue to shape and mold your brain throughout your life.

Course Overview

With its up to 500 trillion synaptic connections, your brain is easily the most powerful machine in the world. These connections are what create your thoughts, what drive your emotions, and what control your behaviors. Even more incredibly: This amazing machine is constantly changing through a process known as brain plasticity. And you can take advantage of this process to improve and enhance your brain's jaw-dropping powers—at any age.

Brain plasticity, the secret to optimizing your brain's fitness, is one of the most revolutionary discoveries in modern neuroscience. While it was traditionally thought that our brains were fully formed by adulthood, the truth is that our life experiences continually shape and mold our brains in fascinating ways. In fact, optimal brain fitness is the gateway to improvement in a range of areas, including

  • memory;
  • attention and focus;
  • learning and creativity; and
  • sensory acuity and fine motor skills.

Now, discover the secrets to increasing and expanding your brain's power to meet everyday challenges and enhance the quality of your life with Optimizing Brain Fitness, an engaging 12-lecture course that shows you how to take advantage of the basic principles of brain operation and build the brain you want to live with for the rest of your life. Delivered by Dr. Richard Restak, an award-winning teacher, practicing neurologist, and professor at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, these lectures are packed with vital information and research-based exercises you can perform every day to tap into your hidden mental potential.

Explore Your Brain's Most Important Functions

Optimizing Brain Fitness centers on the idea that your brain is a continual work in progress, one whose development depends on the best possible use of your brain's most important everyday functions. You explore many functions in these lectures, with a strong focus on three.

  • Attention: Optimal attention skills open the door to top-notch performance in math, reading, and auditory and visual memory. They provide you with the basis for learning what to focus on and what to ignore, and they also coordinate the brain networks that involve sensation, movement, emotions, and thought.
  • General memory: General memory facilitates the formation, activation, and retention of neurological circuits that contribute to your brain's optimal functioning. Memory is the veritable bedrock of superior brain health and serves as the basis of your personal identity.
  • Working memory: Working memory is linked with your IQ and is the first brain function to decline as you age. It is central to your ability to manipulate stored information and can easily be improved by practicing a series of simple exercises.

You'll also spend time delving into the neurology of motor skills, visual-spatial thinking, creativity, and more.

Engage in a Wealth of Delightful Exercises

Professor Restak proves that exercising your brain doesn't have to be a burden or a chore. Rather, it can be an exciting and eye-opening way to explore how the brain works and to discover your own brain's potential.

Dr. Restak has designed Optimizing Brain Fitness with a wealth of exercises, challenges, practice problems, and tests that will enhance and improve your brain's essential functions. Here is just a small sample of the enjoyable ways that you can improve your brain.

  • In one minute, name as many animals as you can without repeating them. You'll have to use your working memory to mentally eliminate animals you've already named. A desirable score is between 17 and 20 animals.
  • Close your eyes and envision the room around you, and then open them and check for accuracy. Repeat this memory-recall exercise and pay closer attention to smaller details, such as the number of magazines on a table.
  • Take a number of spices at random and set them on a table; then close your eyes and try to identify each of them by smell alone. Take this same approach by identifying spices in a meal that you're eating. Both exercises are great ways to sharpen your senses of smell and taste.

Winner of Georgetown University Medical School's Linacre Medal for Humanity and Medicine, Professor Restak is an accomplished neurologist, prolific author, frequent public lecturer for prestigious institutions, and—above all—a champion of brain fitness. Rooted in the startling new findings emerging from groundbreaking experiments and detailed research studies, his course is the perfect way to maintain or improve the health of the most important organ in your body.

Insightful, instructive, and undeniably fun, Optimizing Brain Fitness is an invaluable part of your personal tool kit for lasting health and wellness.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    How Your Brain Works
    In order to best optimize your brain fitness, it's important to understand how the brain's circuitry works. After a brief introduction to the course, Professor Restak guides you through a range of intriguing topics, including the principles of brain operation, the organization of the brain, patterns of brain growth, and more. x
  • 2
    How Your Brain Changes
    Your brain and your intelligence can change throughout your life span. Here, look closer at the way changes in your brain can improve the way you function in your day-to-day life. Also, explore how a series of visual, sensory, and spatial exercises demonstrate the powerful effects of brain plasticity. x
  • 3
    Care and Feeding of the Brain
    You can optimize your brain function by paying attention to three key habits: what you eat, how well you sleep, and how much you exercise. Ponder the science behind this three-pronged approach to caring for your brain, and come away with helpful tips you can apply to your own lifestyle. x
  • 4
    Creativity and the Playful Brain
    What's the connection between daydreaming and creativity? What are four steps for increasing your creativity? Which puzzles are the best for optimizing your brain function—and how can you more efficiently solve them? Learn the answers to these and other questions in this fascinating lecture on creativity and the brain. x
  • 5
    Focusing Your Attention
    The basis of improving your memory: focusing your attention. Here, explore a range of topics, including the physiological effects of attention on your brain; the dangers of inattention; the benefits of enhanced attention; multitasking; exercises to improve your sustained attention, divided attention, and processing speed; and much more. x
  • 6
    Enhancing Your Memory
    In the first of three lectures devoted to memory, Dr. Restak proves just how essential memory is to your brain's optimal functioning. After surveying the details of memory and its roots in the hippocampus, learn ways to sharpen your sense memory and augment both your short-term and long-term general memory. x
  • 7
    Exercising Your Working Memory
    Focus now on working memory—the most important memory process of all and one that involves manipulating stored information. After an overview of the topic, dive into a series of engaging exercises that use your creativity, your powers of observation, and your heightened awareness to enhance and improve your working memory. x
  • 8
    Putting Your Senses to Work
    Imaginative memory techniques—such as mnemonic devices and personal associations—have been used to improve memory for over 1,000 years. Try your hand at some of them right here, including "chunking" numbers to aid in number recall, creating a vivid story to memorize words, drawing free-form designs, and playing mental chess. x
  • 9
    Enlisting Your Emotional Memory
    Turn now to an aspect of memory we don't usually consider when thinking about the subject: emotional memory. How did scientists uncover this specific aspect of memory? How does it actually work? And what kinds of playful exercises can you perform to help you relive the emotional experience of your past? x
  • 10
    Practicing for Peak Performance
    Exceptional performers aren't born with "superior brains." Rather, anyone—thanks to brain plasticity—can achieve high performance levels in an area of interest through deliberate practice. Focus here on two aspects of deliberate practice: remaining fully aware of what you're doing, and concentrating on the most difficult aspects of your performance. x
  • 11
    Taking Advantage of Technology
    Take a closer look at the impact of modern technology on how our brains function. You'll explore the positive and negative effects of electronic journals, personal computers, and more—with a lengthy discussion on the impact of one of today's most powerful and controversial influences on brain function: video games. x
  • 12
    Building Your Cognitive Reserve
    Professor Restak concludes his course with ways to immediately start optimizing your brain fitness. These include trying new and unexpected things, learning in an informal and self-directed manner, keeping things in perspective, opting to prioritize instead of multitask, developing an appreciation for art and music, and—surprisingly—preparing home-cooked meals. x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 12 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 72-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 72-page course synopsis
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Memory and brain fitness exercises
  • Suggested readings

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Your professor

Richard Restak

About Your Professor

Richard Restak, M.D.
The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences
Dr. Richard Restak is Clinical Professor of Neurology at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. He earned his M.D. from Georgetown University School of Medicine and completed his postgraduate training and residency at St. Vincent's Hospital, Georgetown University Hospital, and The George Washington University Hospital. Professor Restak also maintains an active private practice in neurology...
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Optimizing Brain Fitness is rated 3.8 out of 5 by 158.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A very quiet recording! I cannot get any sound from the recording. There is a place in the setup where I can select sound or no sound but I cannot get the sound in either position. It looks interesting though.
Date published: 2018-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Overview and Prescriptions I really like this course: a nice, short treatment of a timely topic that covers a surprising amount of territory. I am sure there is much more to learn about brain fitness since this 2011 release, but all the basics and more are here, including some very useful exercises for one interested in enhancing performance. Normally, I would not have bought this individual course, but came across it in my Great Courses Plus account. I am very glad I did. Some may not like Professor Restak’s fairly slow delivery, but it does get one’s attention. In fact, it complements what seems to be a key message of this course: slow down and pay attention. Multitasking is a myth. Our brains are not made to split attention in the way so many of us try these days. We suffer in so many ways as a result, and would most likely be so much better after a nap! I especially like Professor Restak’s orientation to brain functions in their various locations in the brain, bringing out the brain’s “plasticity”, how working and long-term memory are deployed, and how one can take steps to enhance performance. Running through the lectures are comments on the impact of technology on brain performance, too often negative but also some positive uses as well. One can only wonder how much worse matters are for us with so many now focused on and interrupted by the ubiquitous smart phone? The following sums up the hopeful message in this course: “At every moment, your activities and your thoughts are modifying your brain. Intelligence is not something like eye color that you’re born with and cannot change—it is a dynamic process that can be favorably influenced by choices you make.” (Course Guidebook, Page 1) The value of this course is significantly enhanced not only by the great quantity, quality, and variety of illustrative material, but also by Professor Restak’s examples drawn from his personal experiences and from his neurology and neuropsychiatry practice. The 60-page Course Guidebook is a useful companion as it succinctly summarizes the lectures, highlighting useful exercises. It contains a fine bibliography organized by topic.
Date published: 2018-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Insightful and Practical Course Prof. Restak has provided a wonderful overview of how the brain works, and how it can continue to change and develop throughout one’s life. Brain plasticity is the key, namely that working the brain causes positive changes in the brain. Conversely, not using the brain can lead to atrophy and deterioration, including increased susceptibility to Alzheimer’s. Throughout the lectures, Prof. Restak offers practical suggestions for improving brain function. These are, however, not simply suggestions, but each is supported with a scientific explanation of the impact they can have on the brain. How to undertake and benefit from these various activities and exercises is also explained in the course guide. It is pointed out that people with higher IQ’s will probably get increased satisfaction from such cognitive stimulation. While this is clearly not an issue for the viewers of The Great Courses, it does limit the potential applicability of some of the activities for those less inclined to mental effort. Prof. Restak is clearly an expert in his field. My only slight criticism is that his style of speaking is rather low key. However, the information presented is interesting enough that this minor aspect does not really detract from this course.
Date published: 2018-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Practical Insights Just completed the course, and found the insights highly practical. The next step is to actually do the exercises. Recommended for those who have an interest on how the brain functions and ways to improve it validated by science. If the exercises work, and I have no reason to believe they won't, they will significantly improve the quality of one's life, especially as they age.
Date published: 2018-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Optimizing Brain Fitness Love it! Easy to listen too and learned valuable info. Can't wait to pick my next course.
Date published: 2018-03-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Sleep-inducing I fell asleep a lot. Sorry. The instructor is very accomplished but very boring.
Date published: 2018-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am on lecture 4 and am really enjoying this course. I was worried that my lack of scientific knowledge and anatomy would be a hindrance and even though I don't understand all of what he has taught so far I am thrilled that he is keeping me interested! And since I purchased the DVD I can watch it over and over.
Date published: 2018-02-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from If you can stay awake The content of this class is enlightening and even I, a non-scientific person, can understand it. The only issue is the delivery of the instructor. His quiet speaking voice puts me to sleep. As an instructor, I know it is not easy to keep students' attention but maybe more visual aids would help. The reading reinforces the lecture very well.
Date published: 2018-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Eye-Opening Lectures Throughout optimizing brain fitness, I found myself constantly writing down what was said, so much so that I wrote down every lecture through this course word for word. I've learned to do this with each of these courses, but this course in particular is one of my favorite to watch because it helped me realize the potential my mind has. Attempting to put to words to what was most influential is difficult because he covers how the mind works, what it contains, and helps us understand ourselves and why our mind creates connections through our daily interactions. This course helped me recognize exactly why some of my habits and light addictions were difficult to keep away from, why a simple object in the room or going to a certain place would begin the cycle that inevitably brought my habit full swing. Having the ability to stop the habit from establishing a hold in a new area of life was refreshing, and recognizing how to form healthy habits in it's place changed my motivation in life. Finding triggers that sent me towards one habit or the other, and feeling the control to change their meaning for myself encouraged me to continue with the great courses and I haven't been disappointed yet. This may not be the effect that you will find, a lot of these courses have helped me do soul searching and definitely don't give answers that will always correlate to you. But if you are having questions about your life, I suggest listening close and understanding what he says throughout this course, you will not be disappointed.
Date published: 2018-02-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very interesting The teacher, Richard Restak was very good. He stated many good examples. I did learn quite a bit but I wish there were more exercises for the brain.
Date published: 2018-01-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Convenient Way To Learn Continuously I'm only on my 3rd lecture, there's a lot of material to absorb and he speaks quickly. I haven't received the advertised guidebook so I have to keep pausing the video to take notes.
Date published: 2018-01-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed so far Optimizing the brain has been disappointing so far. The instructor is boring. The downloaded version keeps freezing and then repeating the previous few seconds. The information is informative but hard to pay attention because of the speaker.
Date published: 2018-01-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Useful Course I found this course to offer useful insight and advice and generally deliver well on its premise. Dr. Restak is dry but effective, and his many brain exercises require student participation that help retention of his primary points. All in all, I give the course high marks and would recommend it to others interested in the subject matter.
Date published: 2017-12-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great lecturers I am loving these!!! The lecturers are great! I love the variety of subjects. I’ll be getting more when I finish the six I have so far
Date published: 2017-10-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Optimizing Brain Fitness Very interesting course for me since I am a college student and I would like to work more efficiently with my brain
Date published: 2017-10-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from optimizing brain fitness I've already watched 7 of the 12 lectures. I would have completed more, but I wanted to absorb the material, so that I could use it, not just learn it cognitively. I've reviewed the lectures more than one time each. From the lectures I have learned what areas of my brain are not functioning adequately, and how to exercise those "functions", with the expectation that, with exercise, I will improve. So far it seems to be working.
Date published: 2017-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding information Both my husband and I are enjoying this course. We especially love the fact we can enforce information given with the book and review over and over. Thoroughly enjoying the professor and his delivery of the course.
Date published: 2017-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear thinking again Thanks so much for providing this course. I have been inactive related to an injury and some other health issues. This course is helping me to restore my confidence. Glad to have a book that goes along with the DVDs.
Date published: 2017-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Study! I've only just begun this study, but I am really enjoying it. It's so interested, and I look forward each session!
Date published: 2017-05-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very informative. I purchased this course because a family member has Parkinson's and I wanted to better understand the brain and how I could help my relative. This course taught me a lot about how the brain works and presented many exercises to maintain and improve brain function. I got much more self help information from "Optimizing Brain Fitness" than I've ever learned from a neurologist : )
Date published: 2017-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from On target and to the point. Outstanding and useful with insights that help in understanding functions and causation of actions.
Date published: 2017-03-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from not well done not happy with course, i was really looking forward to receiving it,but found the professor boring and the material not suited to improve brain power
Date published: 2017-03-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I have only watched the first 6 episodes but was distracted but the speaker constantly looking to his left and right as if reading the material he was presenting. Also by the 6th episode his voice was starting to put me to sleep.
Date published: 2017-03-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting and informative I enjoyed this course. Learned a lot about how our brains function that is relevant to everyday life.
Date published: 2017-03-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Brain fitness I bought this DVD so that I could learn about how the brain functions and understand my husband's brain issues. I found it to be a cure for insomnia. The information was interesting while I was awake, but it certainly had a calming effect on me.
Date published: 2017-03-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Gives excellent instruction brain exercises With the very distinguished professor teaching, this course gives an excellent overview of the brain and practical exercises for mind enhancement. Interesting course well worth the watching!
Date published: 2017-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Optimizing Brain Fitness I wanted to increase my knowledge of the brain and how it functions. Professor Richard Restak did an excellent job of filling my needs. The 30 minute chapters were just the right length in adding comprehension of each topic.
Date published: 2017-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fundamentals of Photography I bought this and 2 other courses(Masters of Photography and Optimizing Brain Fitness). I have started the Photography course. I find the information and examples very clear and easy to understand. Only part way through it but enjoying so far. I like how the Homework is included in the Lessons.
Date published: 2017-02-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Suitable I've watched the first 5 lectures thus far (so I can't speak to the rest of the course), but I must say I find Prof. Restak a bit stiff and at times awkward; however he clearly knows the subject matter well. The camera work is a bit bizarre; Restak will abruptly turn away and start speaking to the left or right and after a few seconds the camera will "catch up", i.e. switch to the correct head-on angle. This is distracting. Overall though, the course is holding my interest and the content is engaging.
Date published: 2017-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect title for the program This is my first experience with The Great Courses and I'm so glad I ordered this course. I learned so much about how to keep my brain healthy and active.
Date published: 2017-02-05
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