Using the Internet Is Good for Your Brain

A new study says that middle-aged and older adults can benefit from surfing the Web.

Much of the material found on the Internet is mindless matter, but a new study says that middle-aged and older adults can benefit from surfing the Web.

My father-in-law is retired and spends much of his time playing crossword puzzles. When asked why he loves them so, he always says, "Have to keep my brain sharp." My grandfather is the same way. He is always keeping himself busy and does the word scrambler in the paper each morning. Some research suggests that these "metal workouts" help keep your brain in better shape and prolong memory capabilities.

Now, researchers have taken a look at the Internet to see if it can serve the same purpose. Turns out, it can. According to Reuters, Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles studied people doing Web searches while their brain activity was recorded with functional magnetic resonance imaging scans.

"What we saw was people who had Internet experience used more of their brain during the search," said Dr. Gary Small, a UCLA expert on aging. "This suggests that just searching on the Internet may train the brain -- that it may keep it active and healthy."

Small and his team studied 24 subjects aged 55 to 76. Twelve of them were experienced users of the Internet, and the other half had no experience with the Internet at all. Small then studied their brain activity while they performed various tasks, including conducting searches on the Internet and reading books.

"We found that in reading the book task, the visual cortex -- the part of the brain that controls reading and language -- was activated," Small said. "In doing the Internet search task, there was much greater activity, but only in the Internet-savvy group. There is something about Internet searching where we can gauge it to a level that we find challenging."

I don't know about you, but I spend about 10 hours a day on the Internet. Not because I want to, but that's because that's how I do my job. Whether or not that much exposure is good for my brain, Small doesn't say. (Don't even get me started on my eyes. And yes, I get up and move around and make sure I get exercise.) But for those who are middle-aged and up, perhaps firing up Google and performing a few searches might keep your brain sharp a bit longer.

To read more about the Internet's affect on the brain, please see our web exclusive, "Is the Internet Good for Your Brain?"