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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We hope you enjoyed this newsletter. Please do feel free to share this with friends and col­leagues via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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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