Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Icon

How does mindfulness improve self-control and executive functioning?

MeditationWe have emotions for a reason. Anger in response to injustice can signal that the situation needs to change; sadness in response to loss can signal that we’d like to keep the people we love in our lives.

It’s when we ruminate, or get caught up in our emotions, that they might become maladaptive. That’s when Read the rest of this entry »

Transcendental Meditation and Working Memory Training To Enhance Executive Functions

New study shows Transcendental Meditation improves brain functioning in ADHD students (press release):

– “Prior research shows ADHD children have slower brain development and a reduced ability to cope with stress,” said Dr. Stixrud. “Virtually everyone finds it difficult to pay attention, organize themselves and get things done when they’re under stress,” he explained. “Stress interferes with Read the rest of this entry »

Are videogames good for YOU? Depends on who YOU are

Two recent scientific studies published by Dr. Arthur Kramer and colleagues present Rise of Nations Arthur Kramerfascinating results. The two studies are:

1) Basak C, et al “Can training in a real-time strategy video game attenuate cognitive decline in older adults?” Psychol Aging 2008; DOI: 10.1037/a0013494.

2) Boot, W. R., Kramer, A. F., Simons, D. J., Fabiani, M. & Gratton, G. (2008) The effects of video game playing on attention, memory, and executive control. Acta Psychologica, 129, 387-398.

Let’s first review the first study, a significant experiment in that it showed wide cognitive benefits in adults over 60 years old who played a strategy videogame (Rise of Nations) for 23 hours.

Playing computer games improves brain power of older adults, claim scientists (Telegraph)

– The team at the University of Illinois recruited 40 adults over 60 years old, half of whom were asked to play a computer game called Rise of Nations, a role-playing game in which you have to build your own empire.

– Game players have to build cities, feed and employ their people, maintain an adequate military and expand their territory.

– Both groups were assessed before, during and after the video game training on a variety of tests.

– As a group, the “gamers” became significantly better and faster at Read the rest of this entry »

Physical Exercise and Brain Health

Healthy Seniors

What is the connection between physical and mental exercise? Do they have additive effects on brain health? Are they redundant?

Let’s start by reviewing what we know about the effects of physical exercise on the brain.

The effect of physical exercise on cognitive performance

Early studies compared groups of people who exercised to groups of people who did not exercise much. Results showed that people who exercised usually had better performance in a range of cognitive tasks compared to non-exercisers.

Laurin and colleagues (2001) even suggested that moderate and high levels of physical activity were associated with lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

The problem with these studies is that the exercisers and the non-exercisers may differ on other factors than just exercise. The advantage that exerciser show may not come from exercising but from other factors such as more resources, better brain health to start with, better diet, etc.

The solution to this problem is to randomly assigned people to either an aerobic training group or a control group. If the exerciser group and the non-exerciser group are very similar to start with and if the exerciser group shows less decline or better performance over time than the non-exerciser group, then one can conclude that physical exercise is beneficial for brain health.

In 2003, Colcombe and Kramer, analyzed the results of 18 scientific studies published between 2000 and 2001 that were conducted in the way described above.

The results of this meta-analysis clearly showed that fitness training increases cognitive performance in healthy adults between the ages of 55 and 80.

Another meta-analysis published in 2004 by Heyn and colleagues shows similar beneficial effects of fitness training on people over 65 years old who had cognitive impairment or dementia.

What is the effect of fitness training on the brain itself?

Research with animals has shown that in mice, increased aerobic fitness (running) can increase the number of new cells formed in the hippocampus (the hippocampus is crucial for learning and memory). Increased exercise also has a beneficial effect on mice’s vascular system.

Only one study has used brain imaging to look at the effect of fitness on the human brain. In 2006, Colcombe and colleagues randomly assigned 59 older adults to either a cardiovascular exercise group, or a nonaerobic exercise control group (stretching and toning exercise). Participants exercised 3h per week for 6 months. Colcombe et al. scanned the participants’ brains before and after the training period.

After 6 months, the brain volume of the aerobic exercising group increased in several areas compared to the other group. Volume increase occurred principally in frontal and temporal areas of the brain involved in executive control and memory processes. The authors do not know what underlying cellular changes might have caused these volume changes. However they suspect, based on animal research, that volume changes may be due to an increased number of blood vessels and an increased number of connections between neurons.

How does physical exercise compare to mental exercise?

Very few studies have tried to compare the effect of physical exercise and mental exercise on cognitive performance.brain books

When looking at each domain of research one notices the following differences:

– The effects of cognitive or mental exercise on performance seem to be very task specific, that is trained tasks benefit from training but the benefits do not transfer very well to tasks in which one was not trained.

– The effects of physical exercise on performance seem broader. However they do not generalize to all tasks. They benefit mostly tasks that involve executive-control components (that is, tasks that require planning, working memory, multitasking, resistance to distraction).

To my knowledge only one study tried to directly compare cognitive and fitness training:

Keep reading…

Happier, and Positive Psychology

LifeTwo, the website focused on all aspects of midlife challenges, from midlife crisis to midlife career change, is presenting a “How to be Happy” week, based on the work of Harvard Professor Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar and his book “Happier”. Dr. Ben-Shahar teaches Harvard’s most popular class, on Positive Psychology.

Today is their Day 1: From Happy to Happier.

A number of good bloggers are collaborating: Happiness Project, The Brazen Careerist, MenAlive, The Dating Goddess, Boomer Chronicles, Man-o-Pause, AgingBackwards. I will be honored to provide a guest column, this Thursday, on how to identify and overcome some common brain-based obstacles to being happy, and how you apply the latest brain science developments in your own quest to be happier. In the meanwhile, you may enjoy the post On being positive, and check out Day 1: From Happy to Happier.

Enjoy the week!

Welcome to SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN,, and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking applied brain science. Explore our most popular resources HERE.

Enter Your Email to receive Sharp­Brains free, monthly eNewslet­ter:
Join more than 50,000 Sub­scribers and stay informed and engaged.

Search