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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