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Cognitive Fitness @ Harvard Business Review

The Har­vard Busi­ness Review just pub­lished (thanks Cather­ine!) this arti­cle on cog­ni­tive fit­ness, by Rod­er­ick Gilkey and Clint Kilts. We are happy to see the grow­ing inter­est on how to main­tain healthy and pro­duc­tive brains, from a broad­en­ing num­ber of quar­ters. With­out hav­ing yet fully read the article…it seems to pro­vide a rea­son­able intro­duc­tion to brain sci­ence, yet could have more beef regard­ing assess­ment, train­ing and rec­om­men­da­tions. In such an emerg­ing field, though, going one step at a time makes sense. What really mat­ters is thet fact itself that it was published.

The HBR Descrip­tion of the article:

Recent neu­ro­sci­en­tific research shows that the health of your brain isn’t, as experts once thought, just the prod­uct of child­hood expe­ri­ences and genet­ics; it reflects your adult choices and expe­ri­ences as well. Pro­fes­sors Gilkey and Kilts of Emory University’s med­ical and busi­ness schools explain how you can strengthen your brain’s anatomy, neural net­works, and cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties, and pre­vent func­tions such as mem­ory from dete­ri­o­rat­ing as you age. The brain’s alert­ness is the result of what the authors call cog­ni­tive fitness–a state of opti­mized abil­ity to rea­son, remem­ber, learn, plan, and adapt. Cer­tain atti­tudes, lifestyle choices, and exer­cises enhance cog­ni­tive fit­ness. Men­tal work­outs are the key. Brain-imaging stud­ies indi­cate that acquir­ing exper­tise in areas as diverse as play­ing a cello, jug­gling, speak­ing a for­eign lan­guage, and dri­ving a taxi­cab expands your neural sys­tems and makes them more com­mu­nica­tive. In other words, you can alter the phys­i­cal makeup of your brain by learn­ing new skills. The more cog­ni­tively fit you are, the bet­ter equipped you are to make deci­sions, solve prob­lems, and deal with stress and change. Cog­ni­tive fit­ness will help you be more open to new ideas and alter­na­tive per­spec­tives. It will give you the capac­ity to change your behav­ior and real­ize your goals. You can delay senes­cence for years and even enjoy a sec­ond career. Draw­ing from the rapidly expand­ing body of neu­ro­sci­en­tific research as well as from well-established research in psy­chol­ogy and other men­tal health fields, the authors have iden­ti­fied four steps you can take to become cog­ni­tively fit: under­stand how expe­ri­ence makes the brain grow, work hard at play, search for pat­terns, and seek nov­elty and inno­va­tion. Together these steps cap­ture some of the key oppor­tu­ni­ties for main­tain­ing an engaged, cre­ative brain.

The authors do men­tion part of the research done by Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg (our co-founder and Chief Sci­en­tific Advi­sor) on pattern-recognition. You will enjoy read­ing his thoughts directly:
As well as our inter­views with a num­ber of other lead­ing sci­en­tists in this Neu­ro­science Inter­view Series.

- “Learn­ing is phys­i­cal. Learn­ing means the mod­i­fi­ca­tion, growth, and prun­ing of our neu­rons, con­nec­tions called synapses  and neu­ronal net­works, through experience…When we do so, we are cul­ti­vat­ing our own neu­ronal net­works. We become our own gar­den­ers — Dr. James Zull, Pro­fes­sor of Biol­ogy and Bio­chem­istry at Case West­ern Uni­ver­sity. Full Inter­view Notes.

- “Exer­cis­ing our brains sys­tem­at­i­cally is as impor­tant as exer­cis­ing our bod­ies. In my expe­ri­ence, “Use it or lose it should really be “Use it and get more of it”- Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg, neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist, clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­ogy at New York Uni­ver­sity School of Med­i­cine, and dis­ci­ple of the great neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist Alexan­der Luria. Full Inter­view Notes.

- “Today, thanks to fMRI and other neu­roimag­ing tech­niques, we are start­ing to under­stand the impact our actions can have on spe­cific parts of the brain.”- Dr. Judith S. Beck, Direc­tor of the Beck Insti­tute for Cog­ni­tive Ther­apy and Research, and author of The Beck Diet Solu­tion: Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Per­son. Full Inter­view Notes

- “What research has shown is that cog­ni­tion, or what we call think­ing and per­for­mance, is really a set of skills that we can train sys­tem­at­i­cally. And that computer-based cog­ni­tive train­ers or “cog­ni­tive sim­u­la­tions are the most effec­tive and effi­cient way to do so. — Dr. Daniel Gopher, Direc­tor of the Research Cen­ter for Work Safety and Human Engi­neer­ing at Tech­nion Insti­tute of Sci­ence. Full Inter­view Notes.

- “Indi­vid­u­als who lead men­tally stim­u­lat­ing lives, through edu­ca­tion, occu­pa­tion and leisure activ­i­ties, have reduced risk of devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s symp­toms. Stud­ies sug­gest that they have 35–40% less risk of man­i­fest­ing the dis­ease — Dr. Yaakov Stern, Divi­sion Leader of the Cog­ni­tive Neu­ro­science Divi­sion of the Sergievsky Cen­ter at the Col­lege of Physi­cians and Sur­geons of Colum­bia Uni­ver­sity, New York. Full Inter­view Notes.

- “It is hardly deni­able that brains enchant Japan­ese peo­ple. We love brain train­ing. Dentsu, the biggest adver­tis­ing agency, announced the No.1 Consumer-chosen 2006 Prod­uct was game soft­ware and books for brain train­ing.”- Go Hirano, Japan­ese exec­u­tive, founder of NeuWell. Full Inter­view Notes.

- “Elite per­form­ers are dis­tin­guished by the struc­tur­ing of their learn­ing process. It is impor­tant to under­stand the role of emo­tions: they are not “bad”. They are very use­ful sig­nals. It is impor­tant to become aware of them to avoid being engulfed by them, and learn how to man­age them. — Dr. Brett Steen­barger, Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chi­a­try and Behav­ioral Sci­ences, SUNY Med­ical Uni­ver­sity, and author of Enhanc­ing Trader Per­for­mance. Full Inter­view Notes.

- “We have shown that work­ing mem­ory can be improved by train­ing…I think that we are see­ing the begin­ning of a new era of com­put­er­ized train­ing for a wide range of appli­ca­tions  Dr. Torkel Kling­berg, Direc­tor of the Devel­op­men­tal Cog­ni­tive Neu­ro­science Lab at Karolin­ska Insti­tute. Full Inter­view Notes.

- “Train­ing is very impor­tant: atten­tional con­trol is one of the last cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties to develop in nor­mal brain development…I can eas­ily see the rel­e­vance in 2 fields. One, pro­fes­sional sports. Two, mil­i­tary train­ing. Pro­fes­sor Bradley Gib­son is the Direc­tor of the Per­cep­tion and Atten­tion Lab at Uni­ver­sity of Notre Dame. Full Inter­view Notes.

May I quote this Los Ange­les Times arti­cle and say that

- “I see this as a new fron­tier of fit­ness over­all,” says Alvaro Fer­nan­dez, founder and chief exec­u­tive of the web­site Sharp­Brains .com, which tracks the busi­ness and sci­ence of brain-training. Amer­i­cans already under­stand the value of phys­i­cal fit­ness as a means of pre­serv­ing the body’s proper func­tion and pre­vent­ing age-related dis­eases, says Fernandez.

- He pre­dicts that cog­ni­tive fit­ness will become a goal to which Amer­i­cans equally aspire as we learn more about aging and the brain.

Pretty easy pre­dic­tion, given what we are see­ing and doing every day.

Now, the real merit goes to neu­ro­sci­en­tists like Dr. Gold­berg and many other pio­neers who have been say­ing so for the last 10 years, and doing the hard work. And, of course, for each of us who try our best every day to keep our brains and minds healthy and pro­duc­tive, and do more than wait for a magic pill to arrive.

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