Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Neurogenesis and Brain Plasticity in Adult Brains

Back in July, I wrote a post enti­tled 10 Brain Tips To Teach and Learn. Those tips apply to stu­dents of any age, includ­ing adults, for ide­ally adults are still learn­ers. Why is adult learn­ing rel­e­vant in a brain-focused blog, you may wonder:

The short of it

As we age, our brain:

still forms new brain cells
can change its struc­ture & func­tion
finds pos­i­tive stress can be ben­e­fi­cial; neg­a­tive stress can be detri­men­tal
can thrive on novel chal­lenges
needs to be exer­cised, just like our bodies

The long of it

Adults may have a ten­dency to get set in their ways have been doing it this way for a long time and it works, so why change? Turns out, though, that change can be a way to keep aging brains healthy. At the April Learn­ing & the Brain con­fer­ence, the theme of which was neu­ro­plas­tic­ity, I attended sev­eral ses­sions on adult learn­ing. Here’s what the experts are saying.

Read the rest of this entry »

carnival of the capitalists with a brain– September 17, 2007


Wel­come to the Sep­tem­ber 17, 2007 edi­tion of car­ni­val of the capitalists.

First, a puzzle. Why do we have the brains we have? specif­i­cally, why do humans have pro­por­tion­ally big­ger and bet­ter con­nected frontal lobes (the blue area behind our foreheads) than any other species? The answer: to be able to learn and adapt to chang­ing envi­ron­ments dur­ing our life­time. Neu­ro­sci­en­tists say that the frontal lobes are the “CEO of the brain”, and that we need that type of frontal lobes to exer­cise our so-called “Exec­u­tive Func­tions” that enable us to 1) Under­stand our envi­ron­ments, 2) Set goals and define strate­gies to accom­plish our goals, 3) Exe­cute those strate­gies well.Frontal Lobes

Now, let’s see how all these car­ni­val con­trib­u­tors are putting their frontal lobes to good use. Given the vol­ume of sub­mis­sions received, we had to be really selec­tive. Enjoy!


1) Under­stand­ing our envi­ron­ment: macro­econ­omy, real estate slow­down, and lobbying.

James won­ders, “Can the Fed begin as it must to cut the tar­get rate and still avoid Tim’s slip­pery slope? I think so, and here’s how.”

Ian presents a force­ful case that No, Greenspan Doesn’t Get To Reha­bil­i­tate His Rep­u­ta­tion, at Fire­doglake. Very timely post, given that Greenspan is releas­ing his book today. 

The recent sub-prime mort­gage fiasco and its effect on our invest­ments prompted us to recon­sider our portfolio’s risk tol­er­ance capa­bil­ity”, says FIRE Finance, out­lin­ing these Invest­ment Risks at a Glance. Along sim­i­lar lines, we can read that “I am not hop­ing for the mar­ket to get worse. I just know it will, because that is the nature of mar­ket cycles” at Is The Hous­ing Cri­sis and Stock Mar­ket Decline Bad Enough Yet?, by My Wealth Builder.

If you won­der what may have con­tributed to the real estate mess grow­ing so big, you may enjoy read­ing Pork: Wha’ss On The Bar­beque In Con­gress Is Your Future. The Ago­nist says: “In the United States today, the sim­plest, eas­i­est and safest way to make money is to Read the rest of this entry »

Executive Functions and Google/ Microsoft Brain Teasers

Inter­est­ing arti­cle: Want a job at Google? Try these brain­teasers first (CNN)

Quote: “Seem­ingly ran­dom ques­tions like these have become com­mon­place in Sil­i­con Val­ley and other tech out­posts, where com­pa­nies aren’t as inter­ested in the cor­rect answer to a tough ques­tion as they are in how a prospec­tive employee might try to solve it. Since busi­nesses today have to be able to react quickly to shift­ing mar­ket dynam­ics, they want more than engi­neers with high IQs and good col­lege tran­scripts. They want peo­ple who can think on their feet.”

Com­ment: What are those com­pa­nies (Google, Microsoft, Ama­zon) after? Employ­ees with good Exec­u­tive Func­tions. You can try some of the fun teasers in the article:

1) How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?

  • About 500,000, assum­ing the bus is 50 balls high, 50 balls wide, and 200 balls long

2) You’re shrunk and trapped in a blender that will turn on in 60 sec­onds. What do you do?

Some options:

1. Use the mea­sure­ment marks to climb out

2. Try to unscrew the glass

3. Risk rid­ing out the air current

3) How much should you charge to wash all the win­dows in Seattle?

  • Assum­ing 10,000 city blocks, 600 win­dows per block, five min­utes per win­dow, and a rate of $20 per hour, about $10 million


PS: Enjoy these 50 brain teasers to test your cog­ni­tive abil­ity. Free, and fun for adults of any age!


The Upside of Aging-WSJ

Sharon Beg­ley writes another great arti­cle on The Upside of Aging — (sub­scrip­tion required)

  • The aging brain is sub­ject to a dreary litany of changes. It shrinks, Swiss cheese-like holes grow, con­nec­tions between neu­rons become sparser, blood flow and oxy­gen sup­ply fall. That leads to trou­ble with short-term mem­ory and rapidly switch­ing atten­tion, among other prob­lems. And that’s in a healthy brain.”
  • But it’s not all doom and gloom. An emerg­ing body of research shows that a sur­pris­ing array of men­tal func­tions hold up well into old age, while oth­ers actu­ally get bet­ter. Vocab­u­lary improves, as do other ver­bal abil­i­ties such as facil­ity with syn­onyms and antonyms. Older brains are packed with more so-called …”

We dis­cussed some of these effects with Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg, who wrote his great book The Wis­dom Para­dox pre­cisely on this point, at The Exec­u­tive Brain and How our Minds Can Grow Stronger.

In our “Exer­cis­ing Our Brains” Classes, we typ­i­cally explain how some areas typ­i­cally improve as we age, such as self-regulation, emo­tional func­tion­ing and Wis­dom (which means mov­ing from Prob­lem solv­ing to Pat­tern recog­ni­tion), whereas other typ­i­cally decline: effort­ful problem-solving for novel sit­u­a­tions, pro­cess­ing speed, mem­ory, atten­tion and men­tal imagery. 

But the key mes­sage is that our actions influ­ence the rate of improve­ment and/ or decline. Our aware­ness that “it’s not all doom and gloom” and that there’s much we can do is important. You may want to learn more with our Exer­cise Your Brain DVD.

You can also learn more on the Suc­cess­ful Aging of the Healthy Brain: a beau­ti­ful essay by Mar­ian Dia­mond on how to keep our brains and minds active and fit through­out our lives.


Brain Workout for Your Frontal Lobes

Your frontal lobes are home to your exec­u­tive func­tions, includ­ing pat­tern recog­ni­tion. Here’s a puz­zle to chal­lenge your abil­ity to uncover a pattern.

In this puz­zle, three num­bers: 16, 14, and 38, need to be assigned to one of the rows of num­bers below. To which row should each num­ber be assigned — A, B, or C?

A: 0 6 8 9 3
B: 5 13 2 10 16
C: 7 1 47 11 17

Why do we care about pat­tern recog­ni­tion skills? Well, if you’re an ath­lete, then you want to con­stantly improve your abil­ity to see spa­tial pat­terns on the court or field quickly so you can act on them — by pass­ing to open space or attack­ing the goal at the right moment. Stock traders look for pat­terns in the mar­ket behav­ior to guide them on buy­ing and sell­ing deci­sions. Chess mas­ters are experts at rec­og­niz­ing com­pli­cated moves. Read­ing is also pat­tern recognition.

So, you use pat­tern recog­ni­tion all the time whether you know it or not. But remem­ber, using a skill is great, but you have to keep exer­cis­ing it a lit­tle bit harder each time to develop it further.

Have you solved the puz­zle yet? If not, here’s a hint:
It’s not a math­e­mat­i­cal prob­lem. The numer­i­cal val­ues are irrelevant.

Keep read­ing for the answer
Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Fitness Blog Carnival #1

Brain Fitness CarnivalWel­come to the inau­gural edi­tion of the Brain Fit­ness Blog Car­ni­val. The tim­ing couldn’t be bet­ter  you have prob­a­bly seen the fea­tured CBS News/TIME Series on Brain Neuroplasticity.

Thanks to the over 40 peo­ple who sub­mit­ted posts. We have had to select the posts we enjoyed the most to help facil­i­tate an engag­ing and informed conversation.

Learn­ing is phys­i­cal. Our expe­ri­ence lit­er­ally shapes our brains. And vice versa. The media seems to be focus­ing mostly on brain fit­ness for seniors, but its impli­ca­tions go beyond that, as you will see in this post by Car­o­line: What is Brain Fit­ness?, and the arti­cles in this carnival.

Science-based under­stand­ing is evolv­ing from “Use it or Lose It” to “Use It and Improve It.”  As Fast Company’s Alan Deutschman provoca­tively puts it in his last book, Change or Die. We couldn’t agree more with his sum­mary rec­om­men­da­tion: “Relate. Repeat. Reframe.” Alan presents a blog arti­cle announc­ing his book (here is his orig­i­nal arti­cle). Read the rest of this entry »

CBS News/TIME Series on Brain Neuroplasticity and Memory Exercises

CBS News and TIME mag­a­zine are team­ing up for a five-part series on the “The Com­pli­cated, Mes­mer­iz­ing World of the Brain”. The first report by CBS Evening News con­trib­u­tor Dr. San­jay Gupta focused on neu­ro­plas­tic­ity – “the brain’s abil­ity to reor­ga­nize itself by cre­at­ing new brain cells through men­tal and phys­i­cal exercises.”

Dr. Gupta inter­viewed Arthur Kramer, Ph.D., a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois who stud­ied the effects of exer­cise, diet, and social and men­tal stim­u­la­tion on older adults. Accord­ing to Kramer, the break through anti-aging treat­ment is exercise.

We found in our study that walk­ing will increase the vol­ume of the brain, increase the effi­ciency of the brain and increase improve­ments in the num­ber of cog­ni­tive func­tions such as mem­ory and attention.

Kramer and McAuley’s research showed that aer­o­bic exer­cise led to increased brain vol­ume in the pre­frontal and tem­po­ral cor­tices – areas that show con­sid­er­able age-related deterioration.

To go beyond phys­i­cal exer­cise and look at men­tal exer­cise, Dr. Gupta also inter­viewed Michael Merzenich, Ph.D. of UCSF and Posit Sci­ence. Merzenich said, “The brain is actu­ally revis­ing itself. It is actu­ally plas­ti­cally chang­ing itself as you develop new skills and abil­i­ties, as you learn new things.” Merzenich has been study­ing neu­ro­plas­tic­ity and how the brain changes with expe­ri­ence since the 1980s.

To Catch the Series, Here’s the Sched­ule:
Read the rest of this entry »


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