Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Brain Fitness Update: Use It and Improve It

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In this edition of our newsletter we bring a few articles and recent news pieces that shed light on what “Use It or Lose It” means, and why we can start going beyond that to say “Use It and Improve It.”

The Neuron, The Brain, and Thinking Smarter

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Cognitive Fitness @ Harvard Business Review

The Harvard Business Review just published (thanks Catherine!) this article on cognitive fitness, by Roderick Gilkey and Clint Kilts. We are happy to see the growing interest on how to maintain healthy and productive brains, from a broadening number of quarters. Without having yet fully read the article…it seems to provide a reasonable introduction to brain science, yet could have more beef regarding assessment, training and recommendations. In such an emerging field, though, going one step at a time makes sense. What really matters is thet fact itself that it was published.

The HBR Description of the article:

Recent neuroscientific research shows that the health of your brain isn’t, as experts once thought, just the product of childhood experiences and genetics; it reflects your adult choices and experiences as well. Professors Gilkey and Kilts of Emory University’s medical and business schools explain how you can strengthen your brain’s anatomy, neural networks, and cognitive abilities, and prevent functions such as memory from deteriorating as you age. The brain’s alertness is the result of what the authors call cognitive fitness–a state of optimized ability to reason, remember, learn, plan, and adapt. Certain attitudes, lifestyle choices, and exercises enhance cognitive fitness. Mental workouts are the key. Brain-imaging studies indicate that acquiring expertise in areas as diverse as playing a cello, juggling, speaking a foreign language, and driving a taxicab expands your neural systems and makes them more communicative. In other words, you can alter the physical makeup of your brain by learning new skills. The more cognitively fit you are, the better equipped you are to make decisions, solve problems, and deal with stress and change. Read the rest of this entry »

Heart Rate Variability as an Index of Regulated Emotional Responding

Continuing with the theme of a Week of Science sponsored by Just Science, we will highlight some of the key points in: Appelhans BM, Luecken LJ. Heart Rate Variability as an Index of Regulated Emotional Responding. Review of General Psychology. 2006;10:229–240.

Defining Heart Rate Variability
Effective emotional regulation depends on being able to flexibly adjust your physiological response to a changing environment.

“… heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the continuous interplay between sympathetic and parasympathetic influences on heart rate that yields information about autonomic flexibility and thereby represents the capacity for regulated emotional responding.”

“HRV reflects the degree to which cardiac activity can be modulated to meet changing situational demands.”

The sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PNS) branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) antagonistically influence the lengths of time between consecutive heartbeats. Faster heart rates, which can be due to increased SNS and/or lower PNS activity, correspond to a shorter interbeat interval while slower heart rates have a longer interbeat interval, which can be attributed to increased PNS and/or decreased SNS activity.

The frequency-based HRV analyses are based on the fact that the variations in heart rate produced by SNS and PNS activity occur at different speeds, or frequencies. SNS is slow acting and mediated by norepinephrine while PNS influence is fast acting and mediated by acetylcholine.

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