Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Six tips to build resilience and prevent brain-damaging stress

Stress symbolThese days, we all live under con­sid­er­able stress — eco­nomic chal­lenges, job demands, fam­ily ten­sions, always-on tech­nol­ogy and the 24-hour news cycle all con­tribute to cease­less worry. While many have learned to sim­ply “live with it,” this ongo­ing stress can, unless prop­erly man­aged, have a Read the rest of this entry »

Transcript: Paul Nussbaum on Meditation, Neuropsychology and Thanksgiving

Below you can find the full tran­script of our engag­ing Q&A ses­sion yes­ter­day on holis­tic brain health with clin­i­cal neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist Dr. Paul Nuss­baum, author of Save Your Brain. You can learn more about the full Brain Fit­ness Q&A Series Here.

Per­haps one of the best exchanges was: Read the rest of this entry »

May Update: Brain Training in Mental Health Toolkits for Prevention and Rehabilitation

The use of a vari­ety of brain train­ing inter­ven­tions is grow­ing in the area of men­tal health. Emerg­ing evi­dence sug­gests that in the near future tar­geted brain train­ing may even be used to pre­vent sub­stance abuse. For exam­ple, train­ing work­ing mem­ory may reduce sub­stance abusers’ dis­count­ing of long-term rewards and pun­ish­ments — such dis­count­ing is one of the rea­sons why peo­ple sus­cep­ti­ble to addic­tions do not ben­e­fit from tra­di­tional informational/ edu­ca­tional approaches to drug prevention.

Let’s explore some expand­ing appli­ca­tions of brain train­ing, and much more, in this lat­est edi­tion of the monthly Sharp­Brains eNewslet­ter.

Brain Train­ing and Men­tal Health

ADHD: Brain Train­ing, Neu­ro­feed­back, Diet, and More: What can be done to fight ADHD and improve the lives of peo­ple suf­fer­ing from it?

Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity in the Brain of Chil­dren with Neu­ro­log­i­cal Dis­or­ders: Brain train­ing may be an option for chil­dren suf­fer­ing from Tourette Syn­drom to help reduce the symptoms.

Brain Train­ing and Schiz­o­phre­nia: Social cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams can boost schiz­o­phren­ics’ skills social skills.

Rethink­ing the Clas­si­fi­ca­tion of Men­tal Ill­ness: How can we rethink the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of psy­chopathol­ogy (via the new DSM-5) to reflect our cur­rent under­stand­ing of the brain as a dynamic system?

Upcom­ing events: Cog­ni­tive Reme­di­a­tion in Psy­chi­a­try (June 10th, NYC), Enter­tain­ment Soft­ware and Cog­ni­tive Neu­rother­a­peu­tics Soci­ety (Sep­tem­ber 19–20, San Francisco).

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Lifestyle for Brain Health

More Friends, Big­ger Brain: The num­ber of friends you have could be pre­dicted by the size of our amygdala!

Music and Demen­tia: Play­ing music pro­tects the brain later on. Music may also be used to teach new facts to peo­ple suf­fer­ing from dementia.

Exer­cise and Over­weight Chil­dren: Aer­o­bic exer­cise can boost over­weight chil­dren exec­u­tive functions.

The Brain Grows With Prac­tice…: We know that when the brain mas­ters a new skill, tar­geted brain areas/ cir­cuits get enlarged. We now know that those areas and cir­cuits even­tu­ally shrink back to nor­mal, but per­for­mance gain can be maintained!

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Food for Thought

What is Brain Fit­ness? What are Emerg­ing Oppor­tu­ni­ties to Retool Brain Health? Here are the answers by seven 2011 Sharp­Brains Sum­mit Speakers.

Nav­i­gate through the 30 most pop­u­lar arti­cles of last year in SharpBrains.com to learn more about the brain and how to maintain/ enhance brain func­tion­ing across the lifes­pan..

Brain Teaser

Can you lis­ten to these laughs and dis­tin­guish whether it is a human or a com­puter laugh­ing? Also, given how good laugh­ing is…how about try­ing this to find out how much stressed you are? You may be surprised.

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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.

Playing the Blame Game: Video Games Pros and Cons

Play­ing the Blame Game
– Video games stand accused of caus­ing obe­sity, vio­lence, and lousy grades. But new research paints a sur­pris­ingly com­pli­cated and pos­i­tive pic­ture, reports Greater Good Mag­a­zine’s Jeremy Adam Smith.

Cheryl Olson had seen her teenage son play video games. But like many par­ents, she didn’t know much about them.

Then in 2004 the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice asked Olson and her hus­band, Lawrence Kut­ner, to run a fed­er­ally funded study of how video games affect adolescents.

Olson and Kut­ner are the co-founders and direc­tors of the Har­vard Med­ical School’s Cen­ter for Men­tal Health and Media. Olson, a pub­lic health researcher, had stud­ied the effects of media on behav­ior but had never exam­ined video games, either in her research or in her per­sonal life.

And so the first thing she did was watch over the shoul­der of her son, Michael, as he played his video games. Then, two years into her research—which com­bined sur­veys and focus groups of junior high school students—Michael urged her to pick up a joy­stick. “I def­i­nitely felt they should be famil­iar with the games if they were doing the research,” says Michael, who was 16 at the time and is now 18.

Olson started with the PC game Read the rest of this entry »

Social Connections for Cognitive Fitness

We human beings are social ani­mals. It seems intu­itive (even for intro­verts!) that social con­tact has ben­e­fits. Obvi­ously we need other peo­ple to ful­fill basic needs such mak­ing sure that our genes out­live. Maybe less obvi­ously we seem to need other peo­ple to main­tain pic_pascalepost.jpgade­quate lev­els of men­tal well being and motivation.

Even less obvi­ously, social con­tact may help us improve our brain functions…

Men­tal fit­ness seems to depend on a large part on being con­nected with other peo­ple. For instance peo­ple with low social sup­port seem to be more prone to men­tal ill­ness (McGuire & Raleigh, 1986). In 2007, Glad­stone and col­leagues stud­ied 218 patients with major depres­sion and found out that low social sup­port, espe­cially com­ing from the fam­ily, was asso­ci­ated with chronic depression.

Merely imag­in­ing lone­li­ness can neg­a­tively affect our behavior…

Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Evolution and Why it is Meaningful Today to Improve Our Brain Health

Over the last months, thanks to the traf­fic growth of SharpBrains.com (over 100,000 unique vis­i­tors per month these days, THANK YOU for vis­it­ing today and please come back!), a num­ber of proac­tive book agents, pub­lish­ers and authors have con­tacted us to inform us of their lat­est brain-related books. We have taken a look at many books, wrote reviews of The Dana Guide to Brain Health book review‚ and Best of the Brain from Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can, and inter­viewed sci­en­tists such as Judith Beck, Robert Emmons and James Zull.

Brain Trust ProgramNow we are launch­ing a new Author Speaks Series to pro­vide a plat­form for lead­ing sci­en­tists and experts writ­ing high-quality brain-related books to reach a wide audi­ence. We are hon­ored to start the series with an arti­cle by Larry McCleary, M.D, for­mer act­ing Chief of Pedi­atric Neu­ro­surgery at Den­ver Children’s Hos­pi­tal, and author of The Brain Trust Pro­gram: A Sci­en­tif­i­cally Based Three-Part Plan to Improve Mem­ory, Ele­vate Mood, Enhance Atten­tion, Alle­vi­ate Migraine and Menopausal Symp­toms, and Boost Men­tal Energy (Perigee Trade, 2007).

With­out fur­ther ado, let’s enjoy Dr. McCleary’s article:

Brain Evo­lu­tion and Why it is Mean­ing­ful Today to Improve Our Brain Health

You may feel over­whelmed by the stream of seem­ingly con­tra­dic­tory sug­ges­tions regard­ing the best way to main­tain men­tal clar­ity as you age. Based on an analy­sis of sem­i­nal fac­tors in the devel­op­ment of mod­ern brain anatomy, I believe it is pos­si­ble to make some very com­pelling rec­om­men­da­tions for grow­ing big brains, enhanc­ing their func­tion, and mak­ing them resis­tant to the aging process. These may be loosely cat­e­go­rized as fac­tors per­tain­ing to the men­tal or phys­i­cal attrib­utes of the brain. Although they are not truly inde­pen­dent enti­ties, such a con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion pro­vides a basis for the gen­er­a­tion of brain healthy pre­scrip­tions. Diet, phys­i­cal exer­cise, and stress reduc­tion enhance neu­ronal resilience. Sleep and men­tal stim­u­la­tion are vital for cog­ni­tive abil­ity, learn­ing, and memory.

Diet: Fol­low a mod­ern shore-based/marine diet includ­ing seafood in its most gen­eral sense, non-starchy veg­eta­bles of all col­ors, berries, and eggs. Other sources of lean pro­tein con­tain­ing long-chain omega 3 fatty acids such as free range beef, chicken, bison, or elk are nutri­tious alternatives.

Phys­i­cal exer­cise (Think fight or flight — activ­ity.): Include all types. Aer­o­bic activ­i­ties such as swim­ming, bicy­cling, walk­ing, or hik­ing for pro­mo­tion of vas­cu­lar health and weight con­trol; resis­tance train­ing for pro­mo­tion of neu­rotrophic fac­tors, nat­u­rally occur­ring com­pounds that make brain cells more resis­tant to aging, such as IGF-1 (Insulin-like growth factor-1) and BDNF (Brain-derived neu­rotrophic fac­tor); and bal­ance, coor­di­na­tion, and agility train­ing such as ping-pong, bal­ance beam, tram­po­line, and jump­ing rope to enhance cog­ni­tive speed and motor skills.

Stress Con­trol: From an evo­lu­tion­ary per­spec­tive, stres­sors (such as meet­ing a cave bear) and intense phys­i­cal activ­ity (run­ning or fight­ing) were brief in dura­tion and usu­ally occurred together. Mod­ern stres­sors (psy­cho­log­i­cal or emo­tional stress) tend to be unremit­ting and are gen­er­ally uncou­pled from the phys­i­cal (fight or flight) com­po­nent, mean­ing stress devel­ops with­out any asso­ci­ated phys­i­cal activ­ity. Such intense phys­i­cal pur­suits are now called exer­cise. Not sur­pris­ingly, exer­cise is a per­fect phys­i­o­logic anti­dote for stress due to its ben­e­fi­cial impact on cor­ti­sol (the stress hor­mone) and blood pres­sure and should be incor­po­rated into any pro­gram of stress reduction.

Ade­quate sleep: The body needs rest, but the brain requires sleep. Acute or chronic sleep depri­va­tion causes dev­as­tat­ing short and long-term con­se­quences to brain anatomy (synap­tic loss) and func­tion (mem­ory and learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties). Off-line infor­ma­tion pro­cess­ing and mem­ory con­sol­i­da­tion are addi­tional sleep-related benefits.

Men­tal stim­u­la­tion: Brain-training, a cog­ni­tively chal­leng­ing lifestyle, nov­elty, and social­iza­tion are vital for the pro­mo­tion of neu­ronal plas­tic­ity and neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis (the for­ma­tion of new nerve cells and neu­ronal con­nec­tions), the enhance­ment of spe­cific brain func­tions such as mem­ory, and the devel­op­ment of cog­ni­tive reserve — addi­tional men­tal pro­cess­ing poten­tial that may be brought online when needed.

The com­bi­na­tion of these rec­om­men­da­tions, each of which was instru­men­tal in the trans­for­ma­tion from prim­i­tive to mod­ern ner­vous sys­tems, pro­vides a tem­plate for the most log­i­cal approach for enhanc­ing men­tal func­tion and resist­ing neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion as we travel through life.

The Evo­lu­tion­ary Rationale

The human brain clearly has the genetic poten­tial for dra­matic expan­sion. This was illus­trated about Read the rest of this entry »

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