Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Can food improve brain health?

In other words, may some foods be specif­i­cally good for brain function?

For a great in-depth review of the effects of food on the brain you can check out Fer­nando Gomez-Pinilla’s recent arti­cle in Nature Reviews Neu­ro­science (ref­er­ence below). Here is an overview of the state off the research.

Sev­eral com­po­nents of diet seem to have a pos­i­tive effect on brain function.

Omega-3 fatty acids

These acids are nor­mal con­stituents of cell mem­branes and are essen­tial for nor­mal brain func­tion. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish (salmon), kiwi, and wal­nuts. Docosa­hexaenoic acid, or DHA, is the most abun­dant omega-3 fatty acid in cell mem­branes in the brain. The human body pro­duces DHA but not enough. So we are depen­dent on the DHA that we get from what we eat.

A ran­dom­ized double-blind con­trolled trial (which means seri­ously con­ducted sci­en­tific study) is cur­rently look­ing at the effect of tak­ing omega-3 fatty acids on children’s per­for­mance at school in Eng­land. Pre­lim­i­nary results (Port­wood, 2006) sug­gest that Read the rest of this entry »

Preventing Memory Loss-CQ Researcher

Ever won­dered what explains the some­times sur­real, often mis­guided, health poli­cies by our gov­ern­ment? Well,  it is beyond our hum­ble brains to cap­ture and artic­u­late what may be going on…but we now see that lack of access to qual­ity infor­ma­tion is cer­tainly not the main prob­lem. Decision-making processes, and struc­tural incen­tives, would prob­a­bly merit more attention.…

I men­tion this because we are really impressed by the just-published 24-page spe­cial Preventing Memory Loss issue on Pre­vent­ing Mem­ory Loss by Con­gres­sional Quar­terly Researcher, one of the main pub­li­ca­tions in Capi­tol Hill.

The pub­li­ca­tion is not free, but worth the price for any­one active pro­fes­sion­ally in the health­care sec­tor, or inter­ested in learn­ing about lat­est research and pol­icy trends, from aca­d­e­mics to stu­dents. You can buy Buy the Elec­tronic PDF ($4.95) or Buy the Printed Copy ($15 — $5 dis­count using pro­mo­tion code “L8BRAIN” = $10).

Descrip­tion

As the nation’s baby boomers age, they are increas­ingly wor­ried that their mem­o­ries will dete­ri­o­rate — and with good rea­son. An esti­mated 10 mil­lion boomers will develop Alzheimer’s dis­ease or another memory-destroying neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive con­di­tion in the com­ing years. Pol­icy mak­ers and health offi­cials worry that the result­ing bulge in the num­ber of suf­fer­ers will bur­den the nation’s already strained health-care sys­tem. In the wake of these con­cerns, a vibrant brain-fitness indus­try is offer­ing a vari­ety of ways to help peo­ple keep their brains healthy, includ­ing the use of cognition-enhancing drugs and exer­cise. But many experts say much of what the pub­lic is being told is of lim­ited value, at best. Inten­si­fied brain research begun years ago at the National Insti­tutes of Health is just now begin­ning to pro­duce data that sci­en­tists hope will advance efforts to pre­vent mem­ory loss, but they worry that flat fed­eral fund­ing since 2003 may com­pro­mise the drive for solutions.

Read the rest of this entry »

Exercise On the Brain: a NYT OpEd

Brain Health NewsThe New York Times just pub­lished an OpEd that may be throw­ing out the baby with the bath water.

Exer­cise on the Brain extols the virtue of phys­i­cal exer­cise for brain health at the expense of other impor­tant pil­lars such as good nutri­tion, stress man­age­ment and men­tal exercise.

We have sent a Let­ter to the Edi­tor to clar­ify the sub­ject and put their main rec­om­men­da­tion (go out and walk, or join the gym) in bet­ter context.

Let’s quickly review the four essen­tial pil­lars to help main­tain a healthy brain, and sug­gest some tips. Those pil­lars are:

  • Phys­i­cal Exercise
  • Men­tal Exercise
  • Good Nutri­tion
  • Stress Man­age­ment
  1. 1. Phys­i­cal Exercise
    • - Start by talk­ing to your doc­tor, espe­cially if you are not cur­rently phys­i­cally active, have spe­cial health con­cerns, or are mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant changes to your cur­rent program.
    • - Set a goal that you can achieve. Do some­thing you enjoy for even just 15 min­utes a day. You can always add more time and activ­i­ties later.
    • - Sched­ule exer­cise into your daily rou­tine. It will be become a habit faster if you do.
    • - If you can only do one thing, do some­thing car­dio­vas­cu­lar, mean­ing some­thing that gets your heart beat­ing faster. This includes walk­ing, run­ning, ski­ing, swim­ming, bik­ing, hik­ing, ten­nis, bas­ket­ball, play­ing tag, ulti­mate Fris­bee, and other sim­i­lar sports/activities.
  2. 2. Men­tal Exercise
    • - Be curi­ous! Get to know your local library and com­mu­nity col­lege, look for local orga­ni­za­tions or churches that offer classes or workshops
    • - Do a vari­ety of things, includ­ing things you aren’t good at (if you like to sing, try paint­ing too)
    • - Work puz­zles like cross­words and sudoku or play games like chess and bridge
    • - Try a com­put­er­ized brain fit­ness pro­gram for a cus­tomized workout
    • - If you can only do one thing, learn some­thing new every day
  3. Good Nutri­tion
    • - Eat a vari­ety of foods of dif­fer­ent col­ors with­out a lot of added ingre­di­ents or processes
    • - Plan your meals around your veg­eta­bles, and then add fruit, pro­tein, dairy, and/or grains
    • - Add some cold-water fish to your diet (tuna, salmon, mack­erel, hal­ibut, sar­dines, and her­ring) which con­tain omega-3 fatty acids
    • - Learn what a portion-size is, so you don’t overeat
    • - Try to eat more foods low on the Glycemic Index
    • - If you can only do one thing, eat more veg­eta­bles, par­tic­u­larly leafy green ones
  4. Stress Man­age­ment
    • - Get reg­u­lar car­dio­vas­cu­lar exercise
    • - Try to get enough sleep each night
    • - Keep con­nected with your friends and family
    • - Prac­tice med­i­ta­tion, yoga, or some other calm­ing activ­ity as way to take a relax­ing time-out (maybe a bath)
    • - Try train­ing with a heart rate vari­abil­ity biofeed­back sensor 
    • - If you can only do one thing, set aside 5–10 min­utes to just breathe deeply and recharge

Brain Exercise and Brain Health FAQs

Below you have a quick “email inter­view” we had yes­ter­day with a jour­nal­ist, it may help you nav­i­gate through this emerg­ing field. (if you want some brain exer­cise right now, you can check our Top 50 Brain Teasers).

1. Why is it so impor­tant to exer­cise our brains?

Our brains are com­posed of dif­fer­ent areas and func­tions, and we can strengthen them through men­tal exer­cise– or they get atro­phied for lack of prac­tice. The ben­e­fits are both short-term (improved con­cen­tra­tion and mem­ory, sus­tained men­tal clar­ity under stress­ful sit­u­a­tions…), and long-term (cre­ation of a “brain reserve” that help pro­tect us against poten­tial prob­lems such as Alzheimer’s).

2. What are 1 or 2 things that are guar­an­teed “brain drains”?

- high-levels of anx­i­ety and stress, that are guar­an­teed to dis­tract us from our main goals and waste our lim­ited men­tal energies.

- a very repet­i­tive and routine-driven life, lack­ing in nov­elty and stim­u­la­tion. We have brains to be able to learn and to adapt to new environments

The trick there­fore, is to take on new chal­lenges that are not way too difficult/ impos­si­ble, and learn how to man­age stress to pre­vent anx­i­ety from kicking-in.

3. What are three easy and quick men­tal exer­cises that every­one should be doing daily?

- For stress man­age­ment: a 5-minute visu­al­iza­tion, com­bin­ing deep and reg­u­lar breath­ings with see­ing in our mind’s eye beau­ti­ful land­scapes and/ or remem­ber­ing times in our past when we have been suc­cess­ful at a tough task

- For short-term mem­ory: try a series sub­tract­ing 7 from 200 (200 193 186 179…), or a series involv­ing mul­ti­pli­ca­tion (2,3 4,6 6,9 8,12…) or expo­nen­tial series (2 4 8 16 32 64…) the goal is not to be a math genius, sim­ply to train and improve our short-term mem­ory. Another way is to try and remem­ber our friends tele­phone numbers.

- In gen­eral: try some­thing dif­fer­ent every day, no mat­ter how lit­tle. Take a dif­fer­ent route to work. Talk to a dif­fer­ent col­league. Ask an unex­pected ques­tion. Approach every day as a liv­ing exper­i­ment, a learn­ing oppor­tu­nity.

4. Are cross­word puz­zles and sudoku really as great for exer­cis­ing our brain as they are reported to be? Why? And what about activ­i­ties like knitting?

Use it or lose it” may be mis­lead­ing if Read the rest of this entry »

MindFit Corporate and Freeze-Framer for Memory and Brain Fitness

Cog­ni­tive train­ing and stress man­age­ment, Mind­Fit and Freeze-Framer (or emWave): two com­ple­men­tary sides of Brain Fitness.

Research shows that adults can and should take care of their brains, both for short-term and long-term ben­e­fits. Through brain exer­cise we can improve our over­all cog­ni­tive func­tion right now—making quick deci­sions, stay­ing calm and focused under pres­sure, and mul­ti­task­ing effec­tively. Over time, we may not reduce our brain age, but we can build up a cog­ni­tive reserve to buffer against age-related cog­ni­tive decline or other pro­gres­sive dis­eases. Short term and long term, we all want to lead pro­duc­tive, suc­cess­ful lives.

Any good brain fit­ness pro­gram must pro­vide you a vari­ety of new chal­lenges over time. While recre­ational activ­i­ties like bridge, sudoku, and cross­word puz­zles can work our brain, only a com­pre­hen­sive tool based in sci­en­tific research, like Mind­Fit, can work your men­tal mus­cles sys­tem­at­i­cally through a com­pletely indi­vid­u­al­ized train­ing reg­i­men for Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Fitness news.

A cou­ple of good recent articles:

(You can join our monthly newslet­ter by sub­scrib­ing at the top of this page).

Brain Games will give adults all the chal­lenge they can handle

Bal­ti­more Sun, MD. Mar 22, 2007.The reporter pro­vides a great sur­vey of prod­ucts. The only parts I find miss­ing are:

1) what spe­cific cog­ni­tive skill/s is/are being trained by each prod­uct? if we under­stand that the brain has a vari­ety of struc­tural and func­tional areas, it becomes evi­dent that dif­fer­ent pro­grams may be train­ing dif­fer­ent “men­tal muscles”.

2) How does each pro­gram enable the user mea­sure progress in an objec­tive way? I’d say this is the main dif­fer­ence between “games” and brain fit­ness pro­grams. If you have a wildly dif­fer­ent brain age every­time you try…that so-called brain age is not very credible.

Does brain exer­cise fight demen­tia?
Min­neapo­lis Star Tri­bune (sub­scrip­tion), MN. Mar 18, 2007.As the arti­cle men­tions, no pro­gram can claim to “pre­vent Alzheimer’s”. And I haven’t seen Posit Sci­ence (or us) claim such a thing, or imply it. But what can be claimed is mean­ing­ful: Read the rest of this entry »

Can a brain fitness program help me become more creative?

Creative BrainHere is ques­tion 20 from Brain Fit­ness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Ques­tions.

Ques­tion:
Can a brain fit­ness pro­gram help me become more creative?

Key Points:

  • Cre­ativ­ity can be trained, like other men­tal muscles.
  • Set up struc­tured time, places, or rou­tines that pro­vide a frame­work for cre­ativ­ity to happen.
  • Reduc­ing your stress helps to keep your brain more flexible.
  • Using many parts of the brain as well as try­ing new things will stim­u­late the areas of your brain involved in creativity.

Answer: Read the rest of this entry »

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