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Jogging our Brains for Brain Vitality, Healthy Aging-and Intelligence!

Stroop Test

Quick: say the color in which each word in this graphic is dis­played (don’t just read the word!):

Here you have a round-up of some great recent arti­cles on mem­ory, aging, and cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties such as self-control:

1) How to Boost Your Willpower (New York Times).

- “The video watch­ers were later given a con­cen­tra­tion test in which they were asked to iden­tify the color in which words were dis­played. (Note: now you see why we started with that brain exer­cise…) The word  for instance, might appear in blue ink. The video watch­ers who had sti­fled their responses did the worst on the test, sug­gest­ing that their self-control had already been depleted by the film challenge.”

- “Finally, some research sug­gests that peo­ple strug­gling with self-control should start small. A few stud­ies show that peo­ple who were instructed for two weeks to make small changes like improv­ing their pos­ture or brush­ing their teeth with their oppo­site hand improved their scores on lab­o­ra­tory tests of self-control. The data aren’t con­clu­sive, but they do sug­gest that the quest for self-improvement should start small. A vow to stop swear­ing, to make the bed every day or to give up just one food may be a way to strengthen your self-control, giv­ing you more willpower reserves for big­ger chal­lenges later.”

Com­ment: learn­ing, build­ing abil­i­ties, are processes that require prac­tice and grow­ing lev­els of dif­fi­culty. Like train­ing our mus­cles in the gym. So the advice to start small and pro­gres­sively do more makes sense. Many times the enemy of learn­ing is the stress and anx­i­ety we pro­voke by try­ing to do too many things at the same time…

2) Jog­ging Your Mem­ory (Newsweek) Thanks Chris for alert­ing us!

- “No one should expect mir­a­cles soon, if at all. But the deeper sci­en­tists peer into the work­ings of mem­ory, the bet­ter they under­stand what helps to stave off age-related declines and the closer they come to devis­ing poten­tial drugs to help.”

- “That’s why many sci­en­tists are more inter­ested in what we can accom­plish nat­u­rally, with­out drugs. “With a rea­son­able amount of effort, you can improve your mem­ory 30 to 40 per­cent,” says Dr. Barry Gor­don, founder of the mem­ory clinic at Johns Hop­kins. In the past year, research has shed new light in par­tic­u­lar on the ben­e­fits of both men­tal and phys­i­cal activity.”

- “That’s why a pre­sen­ta­tion last month at the Geron­to­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Amer­ica seemed so intrigu­ing. In a study of 524 healthy adults ages 65 and over, those who worked an hour a day for eight weeks on a computer-based learn­ing pro­gram called Brain Fit­ness 2.0 from Posit Sci­ence showed improve­ments in a vari­ety of unre­lated mem­ory tasks. “The gains were equiv­a­lent to turn­ing back the clock 10 years,” says lead inves­ti­ga­tor Eliz­a­beth Zelin­ski of the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern California.”

Com­ment: we reported on the GSA study, have already inter­viewed lead inves­ti­ga­tor Eliz­a­beth Zelin­ski, and will be pub­lish­ing it over the next few days so stay tuned. Good news is the well-targeted cog­ni­tive exer­cise can help build abil­i­ties, offer­ing a com­ple­ment to other good lifestyle habits such as phys­i­cal exercise.

3) Men­tal Reserves Keep Brains Agile (New York Times). Thanks Tom for the heads up!

- “Cog­ni­tive reserve, in this the­ory, refers to the brain’s abil­ity to develop and main­tain extra neu­rons and con­nec­tions between them via axons and den­drites. Later in life, these con­nec­tions may help com­pen­sate for the rise in dementia-related brain pathol­ogy that accom­pa­nies nor­mal aging.”

- “Observ­ing this, Dr. Stern, a neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist, and oth­ers set out to deter­mine how peo­ple can develop cog­ni­tive reserve. They have learned thus far that there is no “quick fix”  for the aging brain, and lit­tle evi­dence that any one sup­ple­ment or pro­gram or piece of equip­ment can pro­tect or enhance brain func­tion  adver­tise­ments for prod­ucts like ginkgo biloba to the contrary.”

- “Nonethe­less, well-designed stud­ies sug­gest sev­eral ways to improve the brain’s via­bil­ity. Though best to start early to build up cog­ni­tive reserve, there is evi­dence that this account can be replen­ished even late in life.”

- “If you’re doing the same thing over and over again, with­out intro­duc­ing new men­tal chal­lenges, it won’t be ben­e­fi­cial, she said in an inter­view. Thus, as with mus­cles, it’s “use it or lose it.” The brain requires con­tin­ued stresses to main­tain or enhance its strength.”

Com­ment: you can read our in-depth inter­view with Dr. Yaakov Stern here on how to build our cog­ni­tive reserves. And this arti­cle that sum­ma­rizes much of the recent research on Ten Impor­tant Truths About Aging.

4) I.Q. wars (The New Yorker), a superb arti­cle by Mal­colm Gladwell

- “…if I.Q. varies with habits of mind, which can be adopted or dis­carded in a gen­er­a­tion, what, exactly, is all the fuss about?”

- “The mind is much more like a mus­cle than we’ve ever real­ized, Flynn said. “It needs to get cog­ni­tive exer­cise. It’s not some piece of clay on which you put an indeli­ble mark. The les­son to be drawn from black and white dif­fer­ences was the same as the les­son from the Nether­lands years ago: I.Q. mea­sures not just the qual­ity of a person’s mind but the qual­ity of the world that per­son lives in.”

- “If I.Q. is innate, it shouldn’t make a dif­fer­ence whether it’s a mixed-race child’s mother or father who is black. But it does: chil­dren with a white mother and a black father have an eight-point I.Q. advan­tage over those with a black mother and a white father.”

Com­ment: As we wrote here, genes pre­dis­pose us, but it is the com­bi­na­tion of our envi­ron­ments and our actions that we bet­ter focus on. This last arti­cle sets the stage very well for why intel­li­gence is not a purely genetic attribute, and the pre­vi­ous three arti­cles offer very use­ful sug­ges­tions for becom­ing “smarter” and main­tain our men­tal abil­i­ties over time.

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