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
164 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 164.
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
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not great I found this presentation to be lacking in useful information and too slowly paced to keep my attention. I didn't find the professor to be very engaging or the course to be well scripted. I know I sound harsh but I have gotten more from a PBS special. Luckily it was is a short course.
Date published: 2017-02-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from First course purchased Enjoying course, the professor seems very knowledgeable but his delivery is somewhat monotone.
Date published: 2017-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful and Fun This course is interesting, fun and fast moving. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn anything about how their brain works.
Date published: 2016-12-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Optimizing Brain Fitness This course was downloaded via Internet. About half the lessons are unusable, because either the audio fails or the video does. I tried to repeat my download and got the same result. I am using VLC on a Linux operating system, but this should make no difference. Other Great Courses work just fine on my system.
Date published: 2016-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Optimizing Brain Fitness I'm 85 and my memory is not as good as it once was. This course gave me some methods to improve my memory
Date published: 2016-10-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I can't get your DVD to play in my DVD player, so I can't give you a review. I might be sending it back - what's up with your DVDs?
Date published: 2016-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Optimizing Brain Fitness - Brain Power! Information is delivered in a format that is easy for the novice to grasp and understand. A number of exercises to maximize the lessons learned. Has given me a whole different perspective in how I view and understand my brain's functions, abilities and limitations. Great course...!
Date published: 2016-09-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Presentation detracts from material I don't think this course is up to TGC usual standard. The instructor's speech is monotonous and the graphics do nothing to add to understanding. What I found most distracting and annoying was the instructor constantly pacing and frequently, awkwardly, changing camera angles. I tried just listening, rather than watching, and I fell asleep.
Date published: 2016-09-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyable class Interesting and engaging course. A very worthwhile investment of my time and money. The course discussed various aspects of the brain and its function. However, the professor's discussion around the various methods of improving and expanding the ability to remember and enhancing memory.was very interesting.
Date published: 2016-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course This is an excellent course and a valuable overview of the complexity of the brain, what we know, what is new in our understanding of the brain, and how we can take advantage of this new understanding to increase our cognitive abilities. It devotes considerable time to practical things one can do to improve brain functionality and efficiency. The professor is interesting and kept me engaged.
Date published: 2016-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Timely Subject I am helping my son to complete a course on Dementia & Alzheimer's Disease for his job at a Rehabilitation/Assisted Living Community as part of his requirement for work. That information is basically an overview of the signs and symptoms in determining diagnosis. This course is filled with lots of wonderful information above and beyond that delivered in a straight-forward and uncomplicated manner making it easily understood. The brain is so amazing & complex - I am learning so much. Thank you!
Date published: 2016-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Nice Surprise First, let me say that this is not the type of course I would normally buy. It deals with two things that I didn't think really interested me: brains and fitness. Then I saw it in one of those catalogs that the Great Courses always seems to be sending me, and I thought, "well, maybe this is more interesting than I thought." Still, I hesitated in purchasing it. Then, the Great Courses sent me an e-mail that said it was on sale at the lowest price of the year. But I didn't commit. Then, the Great Courses sent an notice that I could take an additional ten bucks off the low sale price, so I said to myself, "Well, maybe I ought to buy it before someone from the Great Courses shows up at my door and starts twisting my arm....literally." So, I bought it, and I ended up really enjoying this course. After watching this course, I've started playing chess again (one of the recommendations). I've also been more cognizant of paying attention to brain health (sleep, diet, etc.). I don't know for sure if I've improved any. Everybody who knows me says that I'm the dumbest person they've ever met, but I think I'm heading in the right direction. A few specifics: the professor tells a joke about a gymnast in an early lecture. It's hilarious. I'm still laughing at it. The context concerned humor and brain function. In a few of the later lectures, the professor begins by saying, "Wonderful to have you back." I wasn't entirely convinced that he meant it, but maybe that's a function of the recording. I've rewatched some of the lectures, and he always says it, so I'm not sure what to make of it. Some reviewers have objected to the professor's presentation. I thought it was fantastic. At the end of each lecture, he gives a wry smile. Watch it and you'll see what I mean. Finally, I watched this series because an audio download wasn't available. I think an audio version would be just as good as the video. There are some graphics of the brain, and sometimes particular portions of the brain are highlighted (like the parietal lobe), but these aren't really necessary to understanding the points. Most of the graphics are just stock images, which could have been skipped. Example: the professor mentions that playing bridge might have cognitive benefits. Then the video cuts to a stock image of a bunch of elderly people playing bridge just in case you needed to know what such a things looked like. I thougt one of the people in the picture was my grandfather, but then I remembered that he died in 1962 and that the person in the picture only looked like my grandfather, but these days you never know.
Date published: 2016-08-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Optimizing Brain Fitness I found the course to be to theory involved. I didn't really need to know what each section of the brain was named or what it did, I principally was looking for ways to increase my memory. There were a few means offered for some improvement but I found them to be inadequate. I wounld have liked more training sessions rather than medical theory.. The course is probably good for medical students but just not what I expected.
Date published: 2016-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceeded My Expectations This course is helping me in many ways and I will watch the sessions again soon. Dr. Restak is an interesting and knowledgeable speaker who makes his subject easy to understand. He provides many practical and fun activities to improve brain functioning and clearly explains how each type of activity affects the brain. I had several "aha" moments when he discussed ways the mind works, which explained why I have done certain tasks the way I have and now I understand (proof reading more easily from printed copy than from the computer, among others). I purchased Dr. Restak's book The Playful Brain and am enjoying many activities, and I am reading about several of the researchers whom he referenced in the series. This is an excellent course and I will look for more of Dr. Restak online.
Date published: 2016-07-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too much technical info We were looking for more exercises and attention and focus information. For a neurology student this would be excellent. We had no interest in the parts of the brain. No real relevance to what we were looking for.
Date published: 2016-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great lecture! I found this course to be very informative. The vast wealth of information provided in this course was excellent!
Date published: 2016-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have only viewed the course for a short time but I have enjoyed the content.
Date published: 2016-06-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Optimizing Brain Fitness We were very disappointed in this course. The speaker's voice, tone and physical motions are very monotonous. Both my husband and I were having a hard time staying awake watching this DVD. The lecture moves along too quickly without pauses to let you think for a moment about what was just said. We have watched about 5 different courses that we were very happy with. This is the first course that was well below our expectations.
Date published: 2016-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course! The professor is both highly knowledgeable and highly skilled at presentation. The content is excellent; and, Professor Restak moves along briskly; but, at a calm and assuring pace. The result is an invigorating and interesting pace of learning. A lot of material new to me is presented with the optimal combination of lecture and visuals. Ditto for the amount of history introduced. This is the best of the 18 courses that I've played. I highly recommend this course to anyone interested even remotely in the topic.
Date published: 2016-04-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Brain Fitness This was my first "great course" so maybe my expectations were off. I felt this course was like a Masters level Psychology class. Too many references to psychologists and medical studies. What I perceived as practical information could have been presented in 60-90 minutes.
Date published: 2016-03-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Optimizing Brain Fitness Every time I begin the course I am fast asleep within a few minutes. It is not from a lack of sleep either. The presentation is lackluster and the voice monotonous.
Date published: 2016-02-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Brainwork Activities I do not have a problem with Dr. Restak nor his presentation in general. I was looking forward to this series because of the "tap into hidden mental potential" and "build the brain you want to live with" claims. What I found was somewhat meandering, inconsequential presentation of information (in general). Specifically, memory retention exercises were the meat of the presentation. The activities, for memorizing and regurgitating information, may be helpful for some, but I could suggest to go ahead and buy those crossword puzzles and read the dictionary and memorize some literary passages as opposed to buying the series. That way you could get a jump on developing deeper analytical processing while you are waiting for the memory tricks. Sorry, I would have liked to give this a good review, but unfortunately for me it was a waste of time which is worse than wasting money.
Date published: 2016-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and Informative "Optimizing Brain Fitness" is my first purchase of the The Great Courses series - and I am very pleased with the content and the presentation. Well done and thank you!
Date published: 2016-02-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Optimizing Brain Fitness This lecture series was more about the workings and parts of the brain than brain fitness. The exercises that were given for brain fitness seemed rather pointless and were a minor part of the lectures. I would have appreciated more practical ways to improve brain fitness in every day situations. That said, I did watch all the lectures and have learned more about the parts of the brain and how they work.
Date published: 2016-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So far I find your course most powfuly rewarding for an aging man as I am approaching 76; it gives me the encouragement to keep pushing forward with my own home self-study education program. In optimizing my brain learning capacity it makes no difference how low a score i get on a test that matters but the advancement of my ability to keep my brain functuatuating to greatest possible limit. Pardon me if I left out some punctuations above! Regards, Frank
Date published: 2016-01-29
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