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Art Kramer on Why We Need Walking Book Clubs

Dr. Arthur Kramer is a Professor in the University of Illinois Department of Psychology, the Campus Neuroscience Program, the Beckman Institute, and the Director of the Art KramerBiomedical Imaging Center at the University of Illinois.

I am honored to interview him today.

Dr. Kramer, thank you for your time. Let’ start by trying to clarify some existing misconceptions and controversies. Based on what we know today, and your recent Nature piece (Note: referenced below), what are the 2-3 key lifestyle habits would you suggest to a person who wants to delay Alzheimer’s symptoms and improve overall brain health?

First, Be Active. Do physical exercise. Aerobic exercise, 30 to 60 minutes per day 3 days per week, has been shown to have an impact in a variety of experiments. And you don’t need to do something strenuous: even walking has shown that effect. There are many open questions in terms of specific types of exercise, duration, magnitude of effect but, as we wrote in our recent Nature Reviews Neuroscience article, there is little doubt that leading a sedentary life is bad for our cognitive health. Cardiovascular exercise seems to have a positive effect.

Second, Maintain Lifelong Intellectual Engagement. There is abundant prospective observational research showing that doing more mentally stimulating activities reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Let me add, given all media hype, that no “brain game” in particular has been shown to have a long-term impact on Alzheimer’s or the maintenance of cognition across extended periods of time. It is too early for that-and consumers should be aware of that fact. It is true that some companies are being more science-based than others but, in my view, the consumer-oriented field is growing faster than the research is.

Ideally, combine both physical and mental stimulation along with social interactions. Why not take a good walk with friends to discuss a book? We lead very busy lives, so the more integrated and interesting activities are, the more likely we will do them.

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Best of the Brain from Scientific American

Best of Brain, Scientific American

The Dana Foundation kindly sent us a copy of the great book Best of the Brain from Scientific American, a collection of 21 superb articles published previously in Scientific American magazine. A very nicely edited and illustrated book, this is a must for anyone who enjoys learning about the brain and speculating about what the future will bring us.

Some essays, like the ones by Eric Kandel (The New Science of Mind), Fred Gage (Brain, Repair Yourself), Carl Zimmer (The Neurobiology of the Self) and that by Steven Hollon, Michael Thase and John Markowitz (Treating Depression: Pills or Talk), are both intellectual feasts and very relevant to brain fitness. And finally starting to percolate into mainstream consciousness.

Let me quote some quotes and reflections as I was reading the book a couple of days ago, in the courtyard of a beautiful French cafe in Berkeley:

1) On Brain Plasticity (the ability of the brain to rewire itself), Fred Gage says: “Within the past 5 years, however, neuroscientists have discovered that the brain does indeed change throughout life-…The new cells and connections that we and others have documented may provide the extra capacity the brain requires for the variety of challenges that individuals face throughout life. Such plasticity offers a possible mechanism through which the brain might be induced to repair itself after injury or disease. It might even open the prospect of enhancing an already healthy brain’s power to think and ability to feel”

2)  and How Experience affects Brain Structure: Under the section title “A Brain Workout”, Fred Gage says “One of the mot striking aspects of neurogenesis (Note: the creation of new neurons) is that experience can regulate the rate of cell division, the survival of newborn neurons and their ability to integrate into the existing neural circuits…The best way to augment brain function might not involve drugs or cell implants but lifestyle changes.”

3) Biology of Mind: Eric Kandel provides a wonderful overview of the most Read the rest of this entry »

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