Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Can weight loss boost memory?

In the past few days you may have come across head­lines claim­ing that weight loss can improve mem­ory. If so, you may be won­der­ing what to make of this.

Let’s take a brief look at the study at the ori­gin of these arti­cles. Par­tic­i­pants were 109 bariatric surgery patients and 41 obese peo­ple (con­trols) who had not under­gone surgery. Bariatric surgery refers mostly to gas­tric bypass surgery, which cre­ates a smaller stom­ach and bypasses part of the small intes­tine. The bariatric patients were enrolled in the Lon­gi­tu­di­nal Assess­ment of Bariatric Surgery project con­ducted, among oth­ers, by researchers at Kent State uni­ver­sity and Colum­bia University.

The mem­ory of the 150 par­tic­i­pants was assessed before the surgery as well as 12 weeks after. Results showed that the mem­ory of the surgery patients had improved whereas the mem­ory of the obese con­trols had declined. Read the rest of this entry »

What about an Adult Playground?

The pos­i­tive effects of exer­cise on brain health have been demon­strated in many stud­ies now. The next step may be to develop low-cost pro­grams in the com­mu­nity that pro­vide appro­pri­ate sup­port and struc­ture for adults (espe­cially older adults) to encour­age phys­i­cal activ­ity.
A great exam­ple of such pro­gram is The Adult Play­ground in Bei­jing, China (Dhand et al., 2010):

Half a foot­ball field large, this space con­sisted of all-weather stretch­ing and strength­en­ing equip­ment such as ellip­ti­cal machines, flat benches, mod­i­fied leg press machines, rail­ings at dif­fer­ent heights, mon­key bars, and arm and leg rota­tory devices. The area was teem­ing with adults, most older than 60 years, who were not only exer­cis­ing but also play­ing games such as Chi­nese hacky sack (a Chi­nese game from the 5th cen­tury BC) and tra­di­tional board games.

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has erected sev­eral out­door adult play­ground of this type across urban areas. This seems to be a great exam­ple of a low-cost, eas­ily acces­si­ble, solu­tion com­bin­ing phys­i­cal exer­cise with social­iza­tion as well as cog­ni­tive exercise.

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 »

When early retirement equals mental retirement and memory decline

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.

Fitter bodies = fitter brains. True at all ages?

The results of recently pub­lished stud­ies sug­gest that fit­ter chil­dren also have fit­ter brains. It looks like exer­cis­ing your body pro­motes brain health. Is this true at all ages? How does it work? How much exer­cise should we do?

Phys­i­cal activ­ity and brain health in children

An emerg­ing lit­er­a­ture sug­gests that phys­i­cal activ­ity and high lev­els of aer­o­bic fit­ness dur­ing child­hood  may enhance cog­ni­tion. In the 2 most recent stud­ies by Kramer and col­leagues (2010), the cog­ni­tive per­for­mance and the brains of higher-fit and lower-fit 9– and 10-year-old chil­dren were examined.

In one study, fit­ter chil­dren did bet­ter than less fit chil­dren in a task requir­ing to ignore irrel­e­vant infor­ma­tion and attend to rel­e­vant cues. Fit­ter chil­dren also had larger basal gan­glia (more specif­i­cally dor­sal stria­tum) than less fit chil­dren. The basal gan­glia play a key role in cog­ni­tive con­trol (e.g. prepar­ing, ini­ti­at­ing, inhibit­ing, switch­ing responses).

In another study, fit­ter chil­dren did bet­ter than less fit chil­dren in a task requir­ing to mem­o­rize infor­ma­tion. Read the rest of this entry »

The SharpBrains Guide Book Tour!

After a sur­pris­ingly calm sum­mer, I am get­ting my brain, throat, and pre­sen­ta­tion, ready for the book tour to pro­mote The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness. The tour includes two talks at New York Pub­lic Library!

These are the events dur­ing Sep­tem­ber and Octo­ber — please let me know if you plan to attend any.
And, of course, if you haven’t ordered your copy yet, Amazon.com is here to help you…

Order Book at Amazon.com
SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book Click

Here

to order at Amazon.com.
Print Edi­tion, $24.95

Order Kin­dle eBook
SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book Click

Here

to order at Amazon.com,
Kin­dle Edi­tion, $9.99

> Sep­tem­ber 8th, Petaluma, Cal­i­for­nia: Phys­i­cal and Men­tal Exer­cise for Brain Fit­ness, at the Club One Fit­ness Cen­ter. More infor­ma­tion here.

> Sep­tem­ber 9th, San Fran­cisco: The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness, at San Fran­cisco State Uni­ver­sity Osher Life­long Learn­ing Insti­tute (OLLI). More infor­ma­tion here.

> Sep­tem­ber 11th, Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia: The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness, at ASA Brain Health Day

> Sep­tem­ber 23rd, New York Pub­lic Library, Bronx Library Cen­ter: The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness. More infor­ma­tion here.

> Sep­tem­ber 25rd, New York Pub­lic Library, Stephen Schwarz­man Build­ing: The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness. More infor­ma­tion here.

> Octo­ber 6th, Palo Alto, CA: Brain Fit­ness — Fad or Rev­o­lu­tion?, Smart­Sil­vers MIT North­ern Cal­i­for­nia event. More infor­ma­tion here.

> Octo­ber 14th, Berke­ley, CA: Do’s and Don’ts of Brain Fit­ness for Life, at UC-Berkeley Osher Life­long Learn­ing Insti­tute. More infor­ma­tion here.

> Octo­ber 21th, New York City: Brain Fit­ness For All, at Glen Cove Senior Center.

Reminder: you can Order your copy Here!

Education AND Lifelong Cognitive Activities build Cognitive Reserve and Delay Memory Loss

In a recently pub­lished sci­en­tific study (see Hall C, et al “Cog­ni­tive activ­i­ties delay onset of mem­ory decline in per­sons who develop demen­tia” Neu­rol­ogy 2009; 73: 356–361), Hall and col­leagues exam­ined how edu­ca­tion and stim­u­lat­ing activ­i­ties may inter­act to con­tribute to cog­ni­tive reserve. The study involved 488 ini­tially healthy peo­ple, aver­age age 79, who brain teasers job interviewenrolled in the Bronx Aging Study between 1980 and 1983. These indi­vid­u­als were fol­lowed for 5 years with assess­ments every 12 to 18 months (start­ing in 1980). At the start of the study, all par­tic­i­pants were asked how many cog­ni­tive activ­i­ties (read­ing, writ­ing, cross­word puz­zles, board or card games, group dis­cus­sions, or play­ing music) they par­tic­i­pated in and for how many days a week. Researchers were able to eval­u­ate the impact of self-reported par­tic­i­pa­tion these activ­i­ties on the onset of accel­er­ated mem­ory decline in 101 indi­vid­u­als who devel­oped demen­tia dur­ing the study.

Results showed that for every “activ­ity day” (par­tic­i­pa­tion in one activ­ity for one day a week) the sub­jects engaged in, they delayed for about two months the onset of rapid mem­ory loss asso­ci­ated with demen­tia. Inter­est­ingly, the pos­i­tive effect of brain-stimulating activ­i­ties in this study appeared to be inde­pen­dent of a person’s level of education.

This is great news as it sug­gests that it is never too late to try to build up brain reserve. The more brain stim­u­lat­ing activ­i­ties one does and the more often, the bet­ter for a stronger cog­ni­tive reserve.

The cog­ni­tive reserve hypoth­e­sis sug­gests that indi­vid­u­als with more cog­ni­tive reserve can expe­ri­ence more Alzheimer’s dis­ease pathol­ogy in the brain (more plaques and tan­gles) with­out devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease symptoms.

How does that work? Sci­en­tists are not sure but two pos­si­bil­i­ties are con­sid­ered.
1. One is that more cog­ni­tive reserve means more brain reserve, that is more neu­rons and con­nec­tions between neu­rons.
2. Another pos­si­bil­ity is that more cog­ni­tive reserve means more com­pen­satory processes (see my pre­vi­ous post “Edu­ca­tion builds Cog­ni­tive Reserve for Alzheimers Dis­ease Pro­tec­tion” for more details.)

Now, one may won­der about the dif­fer­ence types of men­tal stim­u­la­tion avail­able, includ­ing not only puz­zles and such, but struc­tured activ­i­ties such as brain fit­ness soft­ware and med­i­ta­tion. Do we exer­cise our brain every time we think about some­thing? What can one do to exer­cise one’s brain in ways that enhance capac­ity? Does aer­o­bic fit­ness train­ing also exer­cise one’s brain? What types of method­olo­gies and prod­ucts are avail­able? Do they “work”? Are all the same?

Those are the types of ques­tions we wanted to address in the book The Sharp­Brains Guide To Brain Fit­ness (avail­able via Amazon.com). We are proud of the recog­ni­tion the book has started to obtain, includ­ing endorse­ments by lead­ing scientists:

The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness is the only book that I know of that seam­lessly inte­grates lat­est infor­ma­tion about cog­ni­tive health across the lifes­pan, with inter­views with active researchers exam­in­ing cog­ni­tive main­te­nance and enhance­ment, along with reviews of com­mer­cial prod­ucts tar­geted to cog­ni­tive enhance­ment. The book should be very use­ful to any­one inter­ested in brain care, both health care pro­fes­sion­als and the pub­lic at large”.
— Arthur Kramer, Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chol­ogy at Uni­ver­sity of Illinois

This Sharp­Brains book pro­vides a very valu­able ser­vice to a wide com­mu­nity inter­ested in learn­ing and brain top­ics. I found it inter­est­ing and help­ful“
- Michael Pos­ner, Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor of Neu­ro­science at the Uni­ver­sity of Ore­gon, and first recip­i­ent of the Dogan Prize

Pascale MichelonPas­cale Mich­e­lon, Ph. D., is Sharp­Brains’ Research Man­ager for Edu­ca­tional Projects. Dr. Mich­e­lon has a Ph.D. in Cog­ni­tive Psy­chol­ogy and has worked as a Research Sci­en­tist at Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity in Saint Louis, in the Psy­chol­ogy Depart­ment. She con­ducted sev­eral research projects to under­stand how the brain makes use of visual infor­ma­tion and mem­o­rizes facts. She is now an Adjunct Fac­ulty at Wash­ing­ton University.

Ref­er­ences:

- Study: Hall C, et al “Cog­ni­tive activ­i­ties delay onset of mem­ory decline in per­sons who develop demen­tia” Neu­rol­ogy 2009; 73: 356–361

- Book: The Sharp­Brains Guide To Brain Fit­ness: 18 Inter­views with Sci­en­tists, Prac­ti­cal Advice, and Prod­uct Reviews, to Keep Your Brain Sharp

Welcome to SharpBrains.com

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Jour­nal, CNN and more, Sharp­Brains is an inde­pen­dent mar­ket research firm track­ing health and well­ness appli­ca­tions of brain science.
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