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Brain Fitness Update: Use It and Improve It

Here you are have the bi-monthly update with our 10 most Pop­u­lar blog posts. (Also, remem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive our RSS feed, or to our newslet­ter, at the top of this page, if you want to receive this digest by email).Crossword Puzzles Brain fitness

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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