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Brain Evolution and Why it is Meaningful Today to Improve Our Brain Health

Over the last months, thanks to the traffic growth of SharpBrains.com (over 100,000 unique visitors per month these days, THANK YOU for visiting today and please come back!), a number of proactive book agents, publishers and authors have contacted us to inform us of their latest brain-related books. We have taken a look at many books, wrote reviews of The Dana Guide to Brain Health book review‚ and Best of the Brain from Scientific American, and interviewed scientists such as Judith Beck, Robert Emmons and James Zull.

Brain Trust ProgramNow we are launching a new Author Speaks Series to provide a platform for leading scientists and experts writing high-quality brain-related books to reach a wide audience. We are honored to start the series with an article by Larry McCleary, M.D, former acting Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Denver Children’s Hospital, and author of The Brain Trust Program: A Scientifically Based Three-Part Plan to Improve Memory, Elevate Mood, Enhance Attention, Alleviate Migraine and Menopausal Symptoms, and Boost Mental Energy (Perigee Trade, 2007).

Without further ado, let’s enjoy Dr. McCleary’s article:

Brain Evolution and Why it is Meaningful Today to Improve Our Brain Health

You may feel overwhelmed by the stream of seemingly contradictory suggestions regarding the best way to maintain mental clarity as you age. Based on an analysis of seminal factors in the development of modern brain anatomy, I believe it is possible to make some very compelling recommendations for growing big brains, enhancing their function, and making them resistant to the aging process. These may be loosely categorized as factors pertaining to the mental or physical attributes of the brain. Although they are not truly independent entities, such a conceptualization provides a basis for the generation of brain healthy prescriptions. Diet, physical exercise, and stress reduction enhance neuronal resilience. Sleep and mental stimulation are vital for cognitive ability, learning, and memory.

Diet: Follow a modern shore-based/marine diet including seafood in its most general sense, non-starchy vegetables of all colors, berries, and eggs. Other sources of lean protein containing long-chain omega 3 fatty acids such as free range beef, chicken, bison, or elk are nutritious alternatives.

Physical exercise (Think fight or flight – activity.): Include all types. Aerobic activities such as swimming, bicycling, walking, or hiking for promotion of vascular health and weight control; resistance training for promotion of neurotrophic factors, naturally occurring compounds that make brain cells more resistant to aging, such as IGF-1 (Insulin-like growth factor-1) and BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor); and balance, coordination, and agility training such as ping-pong, balance beam, trampoline, and jumping rope to enhance cognitive speed and motor skills.

Stress Control: From an evolutionary perspective, stressors (such as meeting a cave bear) and intense physical activity (running or fighting) were brief in duration and usually occurred together. Modern stressors (psychological or emotional stress) tend to be unremitting and are generally uncoupled from the physical (fight or flight) component, meaning stress develops without any associated physical activity. Such intense physical pursuits are now called exercise. Not surprisingly, exercise is a perfect physiologic antidote for stress due to its beneficial impact on cortisol (the stress hormone) and blood pressure and should be incorporated into any program of stress reduction.

Adequate sleep: The body needs rest, but the brain requires sleep. Acute or chronic sleep deprivation causes devastating short and long-term consequences to brain anatomy (synaptic loss) and function (memory and learning difficulties). Off-line information processing and memory consolidation are additional sleep-related benefits.

Mental stimulation: Brain-training, a cognitively challenging lifestyle, novelty, and socialization are vital for the promotion of neuronal plasticity and neurogenesis (the formation of new nerve cells and neuronal connections), the enhancement of specific brain functions such as memory, and the development of cognitive reserve – additional mental processing potential that may be brought online when needed.

The combination of these recommendations, each of which was instrumental in the transformation from primitive to modern nervous systems, provides a template for the most logical approach for enhancing mental function and resisting neurodegeneration as we travel through life.

The Evolutionary Rationale

The human brain clearly has the genetic potential for dramatic expansion. This was illustrated about Read the rest of this entry »

Best practice for top trading performance: biofeedback (EmWave personal stress reliever)

Brett N. Steenbarger , Ph.D. Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at SUNY Upstate Medical University, active trader for over 30 years, former Director of Trader Development for Kingstree Trading, LLC, author of The Psychology of Trading and the new Enhancing Trader Performance, and of the blog TraderFeed: Exploiting the edge from historical market patterns, is writing a great collection of best practices for traders (many of which are very relevant for all high-pressure occupations).

He wrote a great article a few weeks ago on the value of biofeedback in achieving self control, and now deepens the discussion with this best practice for traders.

Both articles are a fun read-here go some quotes from the most recent one

  • This best practice describes biofeedback as a tool for performance enhancement among traders. It emphasizes that the role of biofeedback is to keep us in touch with our (implicit) knowledge, not to eliminate emotion from the decision-making process.”
  • “we want to control the level of cognitive and physical arousal so that we retain access to expertise that is already present. Biofeedback is a powerful tool for achieving such cognitive and physical control.”
  • “Through structured practice, people can learn to systematically improve their ability to enter and remain in states of calm focus. Such ability is important to trading (and many other performance activities), not because it eliminates emotion, but because it preserves our access to the somatic markers that represent our market feel. The heart rate variability feedback is particularly user friendly, because it is computer based and can track progress both in practice sessions and in real time performance.”
  • “Using the Freeze-Framer program, audible signals tell the user when he or she is experiencing high, medium, or low “coherence”, which is a measure of emotional regulation. On-screen games require the user to keep a floating balloon in the air, for instance, based upon sustained medium and high readings. I recently had an interesting experience during one feedback session: I sustained a high level of the balloon, but then clicked a wrong button on the screen and erased my data accidentally! After that frustration, it was *much* harder for me to keep the balloon in the air. It was a nice illustration of the impact of frustration even several minutes after an event.”

You can learn more about this best practice for Traders and other high-pressure occupations where learning how to identify and manage our emotions and levels of stress is critical for performance.

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