Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Use It or Lose It, and Cells that Fire together Wire together

Who has not heard “Use It or Lose It”. Now, what is “It”? Last week I gave a talk at the Ital­ian Con­sulate in San Fran­cisco, and one of the areas atten­dants seemed to enjoy the most was learn­ing about what our brains are and how they work, peak­ing into the “black box” of our minds. With­out under­stand­ing at least the basics, how can we make good deci­sions about our own brain health and fitness?

Let’s review at a glance:


The brain is com­posed of 3 main sub-systems

The brain is com­posed of 3 “brains” or main sub-systems, each named after the evo­lu­tion­ary moment in which the sub-system is believed to have appeared.Theropod

A) Neo­cor­tex, or Human Brain, is the most recent area, where we per­form high-level think­ing and com­plex inte­gra­tive tasks. Other mam­mals do have this part too, but in smaller pro­por­tion of the whole brain vol­ume. This is where we have our right and left hemispheres.

B) Lim­bic Sys­tem, or Mam­malian Brain, crit­i­cal for emo­tions and for memory,

C) Cere­bel­lum and Stem, or Rep­til­ian Brain, that reg­u­lates basic vital vari­ables such as breath­ing, heart­beat and motor coor­di­na­tion (Credit for pic: Arnold Key­ser­ling and R.C.L.)


More about the Lim­bic System

TheropodEmotions are gen­er­ated here, as well as the appetites and urges that help us survive.

For instance, the amyg­dala gets trig­gered to pre­pare us to deal with a threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tion, result­ing in our feel­ing of fear.

The hip­pocam­pus is key in the for­ma­tion of mem­ory. (Credit for pic.: Sand­hills College)





More about the Neocortex

The Neo­cor­tex is com­posed of:

  • Frontal Lobes: or the CEO of the Brain, for sophis­ti­cated brain func­tions such as plan­ning and conceptualizing.
  • Pari­etal lobes: Deal­ing with move­ment, the senses, and some forms of recog­ni­tionTheropod
  • Tem­po­ral lobes: Audi­tory processes and language
  • Occip­i­tal: Visual pro­cess­ing center

(credit for pic: Morphonix)


When we exer­cise our brains

When we exer­cise our brains, we put our neu­rons and con­nec­tions between neu­rons in action.

In action“Cells that fire together wire together” means that synapses-unions between neu­rons– get solid­i­fied the more often the respec­tive neu­rons “talk” to each other. (Credit for pic.: Peter Furstenberg)

Given the diver­sity of func­tions out­lined above, it is clear that dif­fer­ent activ­i­ties are going to acti­vate dif­fer­ent brain areas, which sci­en­tists now know thanks to neu­roimag­ing techniques.

There is no one magic bul­let that is best (either cross­words puz­zles, or computer-based pro­grams, or phys­i­cal exer­cise): We do need a vari­ety of men­tal stim­u­la­tion or “brain exer­cises” to main­tain the whole brain healthy.


Read more about the brain and brain skills/cognitive abilities:

Read more about how to keep the brain sharp:

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