Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Update: Can Brain Science Enhance Living?

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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 »

Debunking 10 Cognitive Health and Fitness Myths

As part of the research behind the book The Sharp­Brains Guide for Brain Fit­ness we inter­viewed dozens of lead­ing cog­ni­tive health and fit­ness sci­en­tists and experts world­wide to learn about their research and thoughts, and have a num­ber of take-aways to report.

What Santiago Ramon y Cajal can we clearly say today that we couldn’t have said only 10 years ago? That what neu­ro­science pio­neer San­ti­ago Ramon y Cajal claimed in the XX cen­tury, “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculp­tor his own brain”, may well become real­ity in the XXI.

And trans­form Edu­ca­tion, Health, Train­ing, and Gam­ing in the process, since Read the rest of this entry »

The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains — Time for Brain Fitness Resolutions?

Given many of us are start­ing to pre­pare New Year Res­o­lu­tions, let’s revisit one of Sharp­Brains’ most popular-ever arti­cles that can help us all refine our Brain Fit­ness Res­o­lu­tions

The Ten Habits of Highly Effec­tive Brains

  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 Read the rest of this entry »

Walking increases brain volume and reduces risks of decline

In the lat­est issue of Neu­rol­ogy a study by Erick­son et al. (2010) sug­gests that walk­ing reg­u­larly can increase brain vol­ume and reduce the risks of devel­op­ing cog­ni­tive impairment.

The researchers stared with 2 mains facts:

They asked 2 questions:

  • Can phys­i­cal activ­ity assessed ear­lier pre­dict gray mat­ter vol­ume 9 years later?
  • Is greater gray mat­ter vol­ume asso­ci­ated with reduced risks of devel­op­ing cog­ni­tive impairment?

Read the rest of this entry »

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