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Top 10 recent scientific studies on the value of mindfulness in education

mindfulness_schools

More and more studies are showing the potential benefits of mindfulness practices for students –to improve physical health, psychological well-being, social skills, even academic performance in some cases– as well as for teachers and administrators –primarily to reduce stress and burnout–.

To give you an update on the landscape of scientific research about the role of mindfulness in education, here goes our selection of ten recent studies, all of them recent randomized controlled trials, with brief descriptions of each Read the rest of this entry »

Under what conditions can mindfulness courses help health care workers manage stress and burnout?

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Medical professionals are burdened daily with the pain and suffering of patients. Many work long hours, and regularly face stressful situations. This burden does not come without consequence: 60 percent of physicians report having experienced burnout at some point in their careers.

Mindfulness courses designed to help health care workers Read the rest of this entry »

Meditation can Change the Structure of the Brain

(Editor’s Note: We are pleased to bring you this arti­cle by Jason Marsh, thanks to our col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Greater Good Mag­a­zine.)

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I consider myself something of a prospective meditator—meaning that a serious meditation practice is always something I’m about to start… next week. So for years, I’ve been making a mental note of new studies showing that meditation can literally change our brain structure in ways that might boost concentration, memory, and positive emotions.

The results seem enticing enough to make anyone drop into the full lotus position—until you read the fine print: Much of this research involves people who have meditated for thousands of hours over many years; some of it zeroes in on Olympic-level meditators who have clocked 10,000 hours or more. Pretty daunting.

Well, a new study offers some hope—and makes the benefits of meditation seem within reach even for a novice like me. The study, published in January in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, suggests that meditating for just 30 minutes a day for eight weeks can increase the density of gray matter in brain regions associated with memory, stress, and empathy. Read the rest of this entry »

Meditation on the Brain: a Conversation with Andrew Newberg

Dr. Andrew Newberg is an Associate Professor in the Department of Radiology and Psychiatry and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at theAndrew Newberg University of Pennsylvania. He has published a variety of neuroimaging studies related to aging and dementia. He has also researched the neurophysiological correlates of meditation, prayer, and how brain function is associated with mystical and religious experiences.

Dr. Newberg, thank you for being with us today. Can you please explain the source of your interests at the intersection of brain research and spirituality?

Since I was a kid, I had a keen interest in spiritual practice. I always wondered how spirituality and religion affect us, and over time I came to appreciate how science can help us explore and understand the world around us, including why we humans care about spiritual practices. This, of course, led me to be particularly interested in brain research.

During medical school I was particularly attracted by the problem of consciousness. I was fortunate to meet researcher Dr. Eugene D’Aquili in the early 1990s, who had been doing much research on religious practices effect on brain since the 1970s. Through him I came to see that brain imaging can provide a fascinating window into the brain.

Can we define religion and spirituality -which sound to me as very different brain processes-, and why learning about them may be helpful from a purely secular, scientific point of view?

Good point, definitions matter, since different people may be searching for God in different ways. I view being religious as participating in organized rituals and shared beliefs, such as going to church. Being spiritual, on the other hand, is more of an individual practice, whether we call it meditation, or relaxation, or prayer, aimed at expanding the self, developing a sense of oneness with the universe.

What is happening is that specific practices that have traditionally been associated with religious and spiritual contexts may also be very useful from a mainstream, secular, health point of view, beyond those contexts. Scientists are researching, for example, what Read the rest of this entry »

Mindfulness and Meditation in Schools: Mindful Kids, Peaceful Schools

Mindful Kids, Peaceful Schools

With eyes closed and deep breaths, students are learning a new method to reduce anxiety, conflict, and attention disorders. But don’t call it meditation.

— By Jill Suttie

At Toluca Lake elementary school in Los Angeles, a cyclone fence encloses the asphalt blacktop, which is teeming with kids. It’s recess time and the kids, who are mostly mindfulness exercises for teenagersLatino, are playing tag, yelling, throwing balls, and jumping rope. When the bell rings, they reluctantly stop and head back to their classrooms except for Daniel Murphy’s second grade class.

Murphy’s students file into the school auditorium, each carrying a round blue pillow decorated with white stars. They enter giggling and chatting, but soon they are seated in a circle on their cushions, eyes closed, quiet and concentrating. Two teachers give the children instructions on how to pay attention to their breathing, telling them to notice the rise and fall of their bellies and chests, the passage of air in and out of their noses. Though the room is chilly the heating system broke down earlier that day the children appear comfortable, many with Read the rest of this entry »

From Meditation to MBSR

meditationVery nice Los Angeles Times article on the growing research behind, and acceptance of, meditation in mainstream medicine (through what is called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR): Doctor’s orders: Cross your legs and say ‘Om’.

A few quotes:

– “It appears to work. In a new study, published in October in the journal Pain, Natalia Morone, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, tracked the effect of mindfulness meditation on chronic lower back pain in adults 65 and older. The randomized, controlled clinical trial found that the 37 people who participated in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program had significantly greater pain acceptance and physical function than a similar size control group. Subsequently, the control group took the same eight-week program and had similar results.”

– “As a meditator, I learned the value of being present and how that allows clarity in processing our daily lives,” Zeltzer said. “The clinical team sees children with chronic pain who are very difficult to treat and have been to many other specialists and feel discouraged by the time they come to us. I felt that learning to meditate would help the team feel a sense of balance and equanimity in the face of the anxiety and distress brought to them by these patients and their families.”

– “SCIENTISTS have studied the effects of meditation on pain for nearly three decades, ever since 1979, when MIT-trained microbiologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor emeritus and founder of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, used mindfulness meditation in a 10-week program to teach chronic pain patients how to cope. Kabat-Zinn’s 1990 bestseller, “Full Catastrophe Living,” described the technique he used — mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR.”

Full article: Doctor’s orders: Cross your legs and say ‘Om’

Related posts:

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and other stress management techniques

Mind & Life Institute

Pic: Dennis Collette, via Flickr

Build Your Cognitive Reserve: An Interview with Dr. Yaakov Stern

Yaakov SternDr. Yaakov Stern is the Division Leader of the Cognitive Neuroscience Division of the Sergievsky Center, and Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology, at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York. Alvaro Fernandez interviews him here as part of our research for The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness book.

Dr. Stern is one of the leading proponents of the Cognitive reserve theory, which aims to explain why some individuals with full Alzheimer’s pathology (accumulation of plaques and tangles in their brains) can keep normal lives until they die, while others -with the same amount of plaques and tangles- display the severe symptoms we associate with Alzheimer’s Disease. He has published dozens of peer-reviewed scientific papers on the subject.

The concept of a Cognitive Reserve has been around since 1989, when a post mortem analysis of 137 people with Alzheimer’s Disease showed that some patients exhibited fewer clinical symptoms than their actual pathology suggested. These patients also showed higher brain weights and greater number of neurons when compared to age-matched controls. The investigators hypothesized that the patients had a larger “reserve” of neurons and abilities that enable them to offset the losses caused by Alzheimer’s. Since then, the concept of Cognitive Reserve has been defined as the ability of an individual to tolerate progressive brain pathology without demonstrating clinical cognitive symptoms. (You can check at the end of this interview a great clip on this).

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Key take-aways

– Lifetime experiences, like education, engaging occupation, and leisure activities, have been shown to have a major influence on how we age, specifically on whether we will develop Alzheimer’s symptoms or not.

– This is so because stimulating activities, ideally combining physical exercise, learning and social interaction, help us build a Cognitive Reserve to protect us.

– The earlier we start building our Reserve, the better; but it is never too late to start. And, the more activities, the better: the effect is cumulative.

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The Cognitive Reserve

Alvaro Fernandez (AF): Dear Dr. Stern, it is a pleasure to have you here. Let me first ask you this: the implications of your research are pretty broad, presenting major implications across sectors and age groups. What has been the most unexpected reaction so far?

YS: well…I was pretty surprised when Read the rest of this entry »

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