Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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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

Kindle version of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness

Given the fact I love Kindle, and some of our Twitter friends had been asking for a Kindle version of our new book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness…well, here it is:
Amazon.com: The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness (Kindle Edition, $9.99)

The book has also received two excellent new endorsements:

“Kudos for an excellent resource! This SharpBrains Guide is full of top notch information, provides practical tips and helps separate hype from hope in the brain health arena.”
— Elizabeth Edgerly, Ph.D., Chief Program Officer, Alzheimer’s Association

“The SharpBrains’ Guide to Brain Fitness helped answer many of my questions on the importance of both physical and mental exercise to stay sharp as we age, as they act in synergy on one another. The Guide also provided guidelines and specific calls to action to expand what we traditionally do in our fitness clubs. This is an important book for anyone in the fitness industry, and, for that matter, for anyone with a brain.”
— Robin Klaus, Chairman, Club One Fitness Centers

More information on the book: The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness

Also: Book Club Discussion Guide

Learn more & Register today at early-bird rates

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