Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Aerobic Exercise or Weight Training to Boost Brain Function?

Aerobic exercise is the kind of exercise that has been consistently shown to trigger the growth of both brain cells and new connections between them, boosting cognitive functions. It has also been associated with lower risks of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. Is it the case that other types of physical exercise can also benefit the brain? Evidence is more limited, but a new study suggests that weight training may be a likely candidate to do so. Read the rest of this entry »

Q&A with Yaakov Stern on Brain Reserve, Exercise, Cognitive Training, Angry Birds, YMCA and more

I just had the chance to discuss latest neuroscientific research and thinking with Dr. Yaakov Stern, one of the leading scientists studying how to build a neuroprotective cognitive reserve across the lifespan. Dr. Stern leads the Cognitive Neuroscience Division at the Columbia University Sergievsky Cen­ter. What follows is a Q&A session conducted via email over the last week.

Alvaro Fernandez: What do you make of the recent study “Association of Lifetime Cognitive Engagement and Low ?-Amyloid Deposition“? 

Yaakov Stern: I find these results very intriguing. The concept of cognitive reserve posits that Read the rest of this entry »

The Ten Habits of a Sharp Brain

As our final article for 2011, let us repurpose one of SharpBrains’ most popular blog posts since 2006. It may give you a few pointers to sharpen those New Years Resolutions. Let’s summarize some lifestyle guidelines we can all follow to enhance and maintain a sharp brain through life...

  1. Learn what is the “It” in “Use It or Lose It”. A basic understanding will serve you well to appreciate your brain’s beauty as a living and constantly-developing dense forest with billions of neurons and synapses.
  2. Take care of your nutrition. Did you know that the brain only weighs 2% of body mass but consumes over 20% of the oxygen and nutrients we intake? As a general rule, you don’t need expensive ultra-sophisticated nutritional supplements, just make sure you don’t stuff yourself with the “bad stuff”.
  3. Remember that the brain is part of the body. Things that exercise your body can also help sharpen your brain: physical exercise enhances neurogenesis.
  4. Practice positive, future-oriented thoughts until they become your default mindset and you Read the rest of this entry »

Update: Can Brain Science Enhance Living?

Spon­sored Ad (How to Adver­tise on SharpBrains.com)

Time for our monthly eNewsletter tracking recent news and developments on how the neu­ro­science of cognition and emotions can inform edu­ca­tion and health across the lifespan. Let us try to be as concise as possible, so you can spend as much time as possible con­nect­ing with your Loved Ones instead of with the World Wide Web.

Wishing you a wonderful end of 2011 and a happy and successful 2012!

PS: thirty-nine people have registered since this past Tuesday to participate in the upcoming Online Course: How to Be Your Own Brain Fitness Coach in 2012. Please remember we will only be able to accomodate the first two hundred registrants, so please take a look soon to see if you are interested in joining!

Top 10 Quotes on Lifelong Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis (and a Call to eBook Readers)

You may have  noticed that Amazon.com is sharing aggregated data on how ebook readers interact with the books they are reading. For example, the “Popular Highlights” section (towards the bottom of our Kindle book page) ranks the Top 10 sentences that Kindle readers have highlighted and shared while reading The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: 18 Interviews with Scientists, Practical Advice and Product Reviews, to Keep Your Brain Sharp (April 2009; 182 pages; ranked #1 in Kindle Store’s Preventive Medicine section).

This information is invaluable to authors and publishers – as you can imagine, we’ll make sure to not only maintain but to elaborate on these topics as we prepare future editions of the book.

So, what are so far the Top Ten Quotes on Lifelong Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis, Read the rest of this entry »

Promoting Healthy, Meaningful Aging Through Social Involvement: Building an Experience Corps

(Editor’s note: Pathways responsible for higher-order thinking in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), or executive center of the brain, remain vulnerable throughout life—during critical early-life developmental windows, when the PFC fully matures in the early 20s, and finally from declines associated with old age. At all ages, physical activity and PFC-navigated social connections are essential components to maintaining brain health. The Experience Corps, a community-based social-engagement program, partners seniors with local schools to promote purpose-driven involvement. Participating seniors have exhibited immediate short-term gains in brain regions vulnerable to aging, such as the PFC, indicating that people with the most to lose have the most to gain from environmental enrichment.)

Over the last decade, scientists made two key discoveries that reframed our understanding of the adult brain’s potential to benefit from lifelong environmental enrichment. First, they learned that the adult brain remains plastic; it can generate new neurons in response to physical activity and new experiences. Second, they confirmed the importance of social connectedness to late-life cognitive, psychological, and physical health. The integration of these findings with our understanding of individuals’ developmental needs throughout life underscores the importance of the “social brain.” The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is particularly integral to navigating complex social behaviors and hierarchies over the life course. Read the rest of this entry »

The Brain Grows With Practice…and Then Shrinks Back to Normal.

If you practice biceps curls at the gym, you will get bigger muscles that are also stronger. So far, the same seemed true for the brain. Thanks to neuroplasticity, practice triggers neuronal and synaptic growth (i.e., brain volume growth), which correlates with better performance. In this fascinating Scientific American article we learn that as the brain masters a new skill, some brain areas do get bigger but eventually shrink back to normal! The performance gain acquired through practice stays present, in spite of the shrinkage.

Studying the auditory cortex of rats, they found that the expansion of a ‘skill-specific’ brain area with training is only short lived, even when changes in ability are long lasting.

So what does change? Although newly learned perceptual skills don’t show up in a bird’s eye view of the cortex, they must have some neurobiological basis. Kilgard suggests that learning probably results from a few parsimonious tweaks at a more microscopic level, Read the rest of this entry »

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