By: Dr. Pascale Michelon
The New-York Times reports on the study published a few days ago in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, “Mental retirement”:
… Data from the United States, England and 11 other European countries suggest that the earlier people retire, the more quickly their memories decline.
… what aspect of work is doing that, Dr. Suzman said. “Is it the social engagement and interaction or the cognitive component of work, or is it the aerobic component of work?” he asked. “Or is it the absence of what happens when you retire, which could be increased TV watching?”
Comments: This new study is another piece of evidence accumulating with more and more others suggesting that a brain healthy life-style requires constant cognitive challenge to help maintain high-level cognitive functions. Whether it is speaking multiple languages, physically exercising or staying mentally active, our everyday life can positively impact our brain health. Something to keep in mind after retirement…and to even retire the word “retirement”!
The results are also intriguing because working combines multiple aspects of a brain-healthy lifestyle (social engagement, mental stimulation) with aspects not so good for the brain (stress, absence of physical exercise in some cases). However, it seems that, overall, the good aspects of working take over the bad ones as far as memory functions are concerned.
By: Alvaro Fernandez
Vijay, one of our readers, wrote yesterday a very thoughtful comment :
“What is brain fitness and how it is measured? Is it the same as mind fitness which seeks to achieve balance in life?”
I am curious to learn how you would answer that question. I will add my perspective over the weekend, since I don’t want to bias your thoughts now.
What is brain fitness and how it is measured?
By: Alvaro Fernandez
Very interesting new study, Critical Period Plasticity of Adult-Born Neurons, published in the journal Neuron by a team of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers. The press release New Adult Brain Cells May Be Central To Lifelong Learning contains a good summary (the bold format is mine):
- “The steady formation of new brain cells in adults may represent more than merely a patching up of aging brains, a new study has shown.”
- “The new adult brain cells may serve to give the adult brain the same kind of learning ability that young brains have while still allowing the existing, mature circuitry to maintain stability.”
- “The researchers found that the new adult neurons showed a pattern of changing plasticity very similar to that seen in brain cells in newborn animals. That is, the new adult brain cells showed a “critical period” in which they were highly plastic before they settled into the less plastic properties of mature brain cells. In newborn animals, such a critical period enables an important, early burst of wiring of new brain circuitry with experience.”
- “The researchers also observed in the new adult neurons anatomical evidence of the same kind of formation of new connections that take place in the brains of newborns as they wire new pathways in response to experience.”
- “They concluded that “adult neurogenesis may represent not merely a replacement mechanism for lost neurons, but instead an ongoing developmental process that continuously rejuvenates the mature nervous system by offering expanded capacity of plasticity in response to experience throughout life.”
In short: not only do we know today that the adult brain is capable of creating new neurons, but this shows that our experience influences what happens to those neurons once created. Pretty revolutionary understanding, that still needs to permeate through society and influence our lifestyles and habits.
Some related posts:
By: Alvaro Fernandez
Steven Edwards at Wired Blog writes a post titled Yoga Boosts Brain’s GABA Levels, saying that “Participants in the yoga group had a 27% increase in GABA levels, while those in the reading group remained unchanged. Co-authors Chris Streeter from BUSM and Domenic Ciraulo pointed out that this research shows a method of treating low GABA states. Fairly obvious — yes — but this shows a nonpharmacological method for increasing GABA levels that people can act on now, without waiting for a drug to go through FDA approval.”
Having attended last week a conference where neuropharma executives presented all their future drugs against obesity, anxiety, depression…I couldn’t agree more. The rates of serious side effects of these drugs are astounding, yet as a society we seem to prefer to rely on taking drugs when are sick rather than proactively taking charge of our health and lifestyles and do our best (which not always is enough) to protect our fitness and wellness.
The press release Steven talks about: Yoga and Elevated Brain GABA Levels [PhysOrg]. Quotes: Read the rest of this entry »
By: Alvaro Fernandez
I was exposed to a fun brain exercise on Monday: attend my first-ever live TV program, be ready for 3 very precise questions…and then be asked others.
The anchors were fun. It was fascinating to observe, behind the scenes, the making of a news program: constant last-minute apparent chaos, the lawyer in the “ask the lawyer” segment nowhere to be found…but everyone seem to had a fun time. And good mental stimulation-as long as they manage stress well.
Here you have the 3-minute clip from the local CBS’ Good Day Sacramento program, with a brief Q&A and a couple of brain teasers (Count the Fs and Stroop Test).
The 3 questions I was expecting were:
- What is Brain Awareness Week? see Dana’s and partners’ outreach events worldwide.
- What is SharpBrains? see Our Vision for Brain and Mind Fitness.
- What is the involvement of SharpBrains during Brain Awareness Week? check Brain Awareness Week.
Next time I will give more clear directions and maybe improve my English a bit too if I can…
If you want more teasers, here you have Top 10 Brain Teasers.
By: Alvaro Fernandez
You probably have seen the news about Bob Woodruff’s own recovery and his articles now to raise awareness about the plight of Iraq veterans.
In the article “A Firsthand Report on the Wounds of War”, we learn how
- “Woodruff, 45, is launching a multimedia campaign that includes appearances Tuesday with Oprah Winfrey and on “Good Morning America,” and the release of a book (In an Instant) written with his wife, Lee, about their ordeal.”
- “Woodruff’s reporting packs an emotional punch because he is, quite simply, a man who cheated death. Never before had an anchor for an American broadcast network been injured in war. Woodruff instantly became a symbol of the dangers that journalists face in Iraq, and is trying to use his higher profile to illuminate the plight of soldiers who struggle with these injuries far from the spotlight.”
This is not an isolated example but part of a larger, and growing, problem. The Discover Magazine article Read the rest of this entry »
By: Caroline Latham
Alvaro and I had the good fortune to attend a great conference last week called Learning & The Brain: Enhancing Cognition and Emotions for Learning. It was a fascinating mix of neuroscientists and educators talking with and listening to each other. Some topics were meant to be applied today, but many were food for thought — insight on where science and education are headed and how they influence each other.
Using dramatic new imaging techniques, such as fMRIs, PET, and SPECT, neuroscientists are gaining valuable information about learning. This pioneering knowledge is leading not only to new pedagogies, but also to new medications, brain enhancement technologies, and therapies.… The Conference creates an interdisciplinary forum — a meeting place for neuroscientists, educators, psychologists, clinicians, and parents — to examine these new research findings with respect to their applicability in the classroom and clinical practice.
- Humans are a mixture of cognition and emotion, and both elements are essential to function and learn properly
- Educators and public policy makers need to learn more about the brain, how it grows, and how to cultivate it
- Students of all ages need to be both challenged and nurtured in order to succeed
- People learn differently — try to teach and learn through as many different modalities as possible (engage language, motor skills, artistic creation, social interaction, sensory input, etc.)
- While short-term stress can heighten your cognitive abilities, long term stress kills you — you need to find balance and release
- Test anxiety and subsequent poor test results can be improved with behavioral training with feedback based on heart rate variability
- Dr. Robert Sapolsky is a very very enlightening and fun speaker
- Allow time for rest and consolidation of learned material
- Emotional memories are easier to remember
- Conferences like these perform a real service in fostering dialogues between scientists and educators
Read the rest of this entry »