Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Brain Fitness at New York Public Library

A few weeks ago I had the plea­sure to give a talk to one hun­dred or so staff mem­bers at New York Pub­lic Library. As you would expect, it was a very stim­u­lat­ing group, and one of the par­tic­i­pants, Brigid Caha­lan, just wrote a fun blog post on her impres­sions from the event:

Brain Fit­ness at New York Pub­lic Library:

- “After attend­ing a recent staff train­ing ses­sion offered by the library’s Office of Staff Devel­op­ment, I decided to return to a habit of my childhood–eating sar­dines.“
– key pil­lars for brain health …are… “1) A bal­anced diet; 2) Car­dio­vas­cu­lar phys­i­cal exer­cise; 3) Stress man­age­ment; and 4) Brain exer­cise: Nov­elty, Vari­ety, Chal­lenge (as long as it doesn’t stress us out).”

Read full arti­cle: here.

Com­ment: A very inter­est­ing trend of observe — the grow­ing role of pub­lic libraries in pro­vid­ing qual­ity brain health infor­ma­tion and even, why not, becom­ing community-based brain fit­ness des­ti­na­tions. After all, is it not men­tal stim­u­la­tion of all sorts, incor­po­rat­ing Nov­elty, Vari­ety, and Chal­lenge, what they truly offer?

Towards a Healthy Living & Cognitive Health Agenda

Here you have the Novem­ber edi­tion of our monthly newslet­ter cov­er­ing cog­ni­tive health and brain fit­ness top­ics. Please remem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive this Newslet­ter by email, sim­ply by brain fitness and health newslettersub­mit­ting your email at the top of this page.

Thank you for your inter­est, atten­tion and par­tic­i­pa­tion in our Sharp­Brains com­mu­nity. As always, we appre­ci­ate your com­ments and suggestions.

Sum­mit of the Global Agenda

How can we per­suade busi­ness lead­ers, policy-makers and researchers of the urgency to develop and pro­mote an inte­grated “Healthy Liv­ing” agenda focused on main­tain­ing life­long phys­i­cal and cog­ni­tive health, vs. the usual mind­set focused on deal­ing with spe­cific dis­eases and prob­lems once they arise?

In The Future of the Aging Soci­ety: Bur­den or Human Cap­i­tal?, I sum­ma­rize some of the key themes dis­cussed at the World Eco­nomic Forum event in Dubai on Novem­ber 7-9th. The world is aging — and in health­ier ways. But our health­care and retire­ment sys­tems are on track to go bank­rupt — their premises are out­dated. The cur­rent disease-based research agenda com­pounds the prob­lem. Solu­tions? 1) Pro­mote Healthy Lifestyles that help Main­tain Phys­i­cal and Cog­ni­tive Func­tional Abil­i­ties, 2) Redesign Envi­ron­ments to Fos­ter Health, Engage­ment and Finan­cial Secu­rity, 3) Develop an Inte­grated Healthy Liv­ing & Aging Research Agenda. Specif­i­cally, we could work with the UN and Global 2000 com­pa­nies to move for­ward a new agenda.

Planet Earth 2.0: A New Oper­at­ing Sys­tem: Imag­ine see­ing a top sheik in Dubai, wrapped in tra­di­tional Arab cloth­ing, exclaim “Yes We Can (a la Obama) in front of the 800 global experts, adding that “we build the future with our own hands. Some of the atten­dants of the World Eco­nomic Forum’s Sum­mit of the Global Agenda urged us to “reboot” the sys­tem. More than a “reboot”, we may have to upgrade to a new global “Yes We Can” oper­at­ing system.

Brain Fit­ness Research

Train­ing Atten­tion and Emo­tional Self-Regulation: Dr. Michael Pos­ner, a promi­nent  cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tist and first recip­i­ent of the Dogan Prize, grants us a fas­ci­nat­ing inter­view on what atten­tion, self-regulation, and effort­ful con­trol are, and how to improve them using soft­ware, med­i­ta­tion, and par­ent­ing. In his words, “we have found no ceil­ing for abil­i­ties such as atten­tion, includ­ing among adults. The more train­ing (…) the higher the results.”

Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity and the Brain That Changes Itself: Lau­rie Bar­tels reviews the excel­lent book by Nor­man Doidge, explain­ing that “the neu­ro­science behind Doidge’s book involves neu­ro­plas­tic­ity, which is the brain’s abil­ity to rewire itself. This means that the brain  is our intel­li­gence,  is not some­thing fixed in con­crete but rather a chang­ing, learn­ing entity.”

Can We Pick Your Brain re: Cog­ni­tive Assess­ments?: In our view, a crit­i­cal com­po­nent in the matu­rity of the brain fit­ness mar­ket will be the avail­abil­ity of inex­pen­sive, valid and reli­able objec­tive cog­ni­tive assess­ments,  to help mea­sure how our brain func­tions change over time and iden­tify pri­or­i­ties for tar­geted improve­ments. Dr. Joshua Stein­er­man asks if you would be up for them?

Use It (Prop­erly) or Lose It

Mem­ory Prob­lems? Per­haps you are Multi-tasking: Dr. Bill Klemm tells us that “Multi-tasking vio­lates every­thing we know about how mem­ory works.” He explains that “(multi-tasking) prob­a­bly does make learn­ing less tedious, but it clearly makes learn­ing less effi­cient and less effective.”

Phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise to pre­vent cog­ni­tive decline: The Amer­i­can Med­ical News, a weekly news­pa­per for physi­cians pub­lished by the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion, just pub­lished an excel­lent arti­cle on the impor­tance of phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise. We are very happy to see efforts like these to train physi­cians and health pro­fes­sion­als in gen­eral,  given that most of them were trained under a very dif­fer­ent under­stand­ing of the brain than the one we have today.

Brain Fit­ness 2: Sight & Sound: PBS recently announced the sec­ond install­ment of their pop­u­lar Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram show, to start air­ing soon.

MetaCar­ni­val #1: a con­ver­sa­tion across the blo­gos­phere: We often insist on “Nov­elty, Vari­ety and Chal­lenge” as key ingre­di­ents for good “brain exer­cise”. There are many ways to mix those ingre­di­ents — you may enjoy this one, the first inter­dis­ci­pli­nary gath­er­ing of blogs and blog car­ni­vals cov­er­ing health, sci­ence, anthro­pol­ogy, gen­eral advice and more.

Brain Teasers

Top 15 Brain Teasers and Games for Men­tal Exer­cise: Over the last 2 years we have pub­lished close to 100 puz­zles, teasers, rid­dles, and every kind of men­tal exer­cise (with­out count­ing our in-depth inter­views with top neu­ro­sci­en­tists). Which ones have proven most stim­u­lat­ing for you. Let us know. Here is a selec­tion of our Top 15 teasers.

Final Details

That’s all for now. Next month, we will be offer­ing another great selec­tion of arti­cles: Dr. Andrew New­berg will dis­cuss the brain value of med­i­ta­tion,  Dr. David Rabiner will review a recent study on how neu­ro­feed­back may assist in the diag­nos­tic of atten­tion deficits, and much more.

Please share this newslet­ter with your friends and col­leagues if you haven’t done so already.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Travel and Engagement as Good Brain Exercise

University of Namibia

Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity is defined as “the abil­ity of the brain to rewire itself through experience”.

We typ­i­cally sum­ma­rize a lot of brain research by encour­ag­ing Sharp­Brains read­ers is to seek for nov­elty, vari­ety and chal­lenge, as guide­lines for “brain exer­cise” that will help build new con­nec­tions in the brain, force one to be mind­ful and pay atten­tion, improve abil­i­ties such as pattern-recognition, and in gen­eral con­tribute to life­long brain health.

A friend just sent an update on her amaz­ing expe­ri­ence in Namibia (the pic on the right shows the entrance to the Uni­ver­sity of Namibia) that shows how Travel and Engage­ment with mean­ing­ful projects can pro­vide superb men­tal stim­u­la­tion, or “brain exer­cise”. This is rel­e­vant at all ages, and we are encour­aged to see orga­ni­za­tions such as Civic Ven­tures and Elder­hos­tel that offer oppor­tu­ni­ties for baby boomers and older adults who want to main­tain active minds.

Try pic­tur­ing in your mind, as you read this, all her dif­fer­ent brain areas that are get­ting needed stim­u­la­tion through her Namibia experience.

UPDATE: my friend just wrote to expand on the “be mind­ful” angle by say­ing that “it def­i­nitely requires pur­pose­ful pro­cess­ing of the infor­ma­tion that you are con­sum­ing in order to make it a use­ful brain exer­cise. For exam­ple, I always try to jour­nal or write thought­ful emails about my expe­ri­ence in order to try to best under­stand it.” Great point.

With her per­mis­sion, here you have:


Dear Friends,

I am just return­ing from Namibia and am buzzing with excite­ment about all of the oppor­tu­ni­ties for us to make an impact there when we return with our stu­dents next Spring.

Namibia is very dif­fer­ent than I expected. It was the last coun­try in Africa to gain inde­pen­dence from colo­nial­ism, gain­ing inde­pen­dence just 20 years ago. Thus, it is much more devel­oped than any African coun­try that I have vis­ited, with rel­a­tively good infra­struc­ture and no exist­ing debt. That said, the lega­cies of apartheid can still be felt in today’s soci­ety, and the peo­ple are very clearly deal­ing con­stantly with issues of race and iden­tity. One of the most inter­est­ing expe­ri­ences that I had was attend­ing a “braai” (the Namib­ian ver­sion of a bar­be­cue which basi­cally con­sists of Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Health and Fitness Workshops

Today I have an announce­ment to make. You prob­a­bly are seeing all the arti­cles about Brain Fit­ness in the press and wondering, “What is this all about?”, “Can some­one help me nav­i­gate through all the pro­grams out there?”, “How is Brain Fit­ness rel­e­vant to me in my per­sonal life or at work?”. Well…we are deliv­er­ing a series of work­shops to com­pa­nies and orga­ni­za­tions com­bin­ing mod­ules –includ­ing sci­en­tific overview, the indus­try trends and key play­ers, fun team-building exer­cises– that can be tai­lored to each organization’s spe­cific needs. Ses­sions last from 1 to 6 hours, depend­ing on the group’s com­po­si­tion and agenda and are deliv­ered either in per­son or via web conference.

We want to be able to reach more orga­ni­za­tions, so please let us know of any ideas!

Some recent examples

1. Man­ag­ing Stress for Peak Per­for­mance (we men­tioned some notes on an Accen­ture ses­sion)

New and chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions – such as tak­ing on new respon­si­bil­i­ties– can trig­ger reac­tions in our brain and body that limit or even block our decision-making abil­i­ties. These reac­tions may also harm our long-term brain power and health. Although we can­not avoid change and stress­ful sit­u­a­tions, we can learn how to man­age our stress lev­els to ensure peak performance-even in tough moments. The lat­est neu­ro­science research proves that stress man­age­ment is a train­able “men­tal mus­cle.” This is true for any high pres­sure pro­fes­sion, be it trad­ing, sports, or sim­ply mod­ern life.

2. The Sci­ence of Brain Health and Brain Fit­ness (sim­i­lar to what I will teach at UC Berke­ley OLLI)

Neu­ro­sci­en­tists have shown how the human brain retains neu­ro­plas­tic­ity (the abil­ity to rewire itself) and neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis (the cre­ation of new neu­rons) dur­ing its full life­time, lead­ing to a new under­stand­ing of Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Health through Serious Games and Brain Exercise

Eliane writes a great post esti­mat­ing the size of the Seri­ous Games Mar­ket, build­ing on the over­all Price­Wa­ter­house­C­oop­ers report that seemed to indi­cate that the Global Video Game Mar­ket is Set to Explode.

Some quotes

  • “The over­all gam­ing audi­ence con­tin­ues to expand and become some­what more female and older than in the past thanks to casual games and games becom­ing an “impor­tant part of cul­ture” — which in my view would embed the Seri­ous Games segment.”
  • “Whereas the mil­i­tary was one of the first cus­tomers of Seri­ous Games, it has been joined by a long line of users, includ­ing other gov­ern­ment agen­cies, health­care providers, schools (both K-12 and uni­ver­si­ties) and For­tune 500 com­pa­nies (for team build­ing, lead­er­ship train­ing, sales train­ing and prod­uct edu­ca­tion, among others).”
  • “This is my con­ser­v­a­tive esti­mate: the Seri­ous Games mar­ket would be rang­ing between $200 — 400 mil­lion per year only in US, in 2007. ”
  • “There is now an emer­gent sup­ply chain for Cor­po­rate Seri­ous Games, with a num­ber of cor­po­ra­tions tak­ing Read the rest of this entry »

Stress Management Workshop for International Women’s Day

Today is Inter­na­tional Women’s Day 2007.

Global con­sult­ing com­pany Accen­ture orga­nized a series of events, and I was for­tu­nate to lead a fun work­shop on The Neu­ro­science of Stress and Stress Man­age­ment in their San Fran­cisco office, help­ing over 125 accom­plished women (and a few men) learn what stress is, its impli­ca­tions for our brain func­tion­ing, per­for­mance and health, and of course some tips and tech­niques to develop our “stress man­age­ment” mus­cles. It was an honor to be able to wrap up a great event that included Dis­trict Attor­ney Kamala D. Har­ris, two of the co-authors of This is Not the Life I Ordered, a video by Sen­a­tor Dianne Fein­stein, and some great Accen­ture women.

We dis­cussed how stress is the emo­tional and phys­i­o­log­i­cal reac­tion to a threat, whether real or imag­ined, that results in a series of adap­ta­tions by our bod­ies. And how stress man­age­ment can bring a vari­ety of ben­e­fits: sus­tained peak per­for­mance, cog­ni­tive flex­i­bil­ity, mem­ory, deci­sion mak­ing, and even longevity.
You can see a very inter­est­ing exam­ple of the rela­tion­ship between atten­tion, mem­ory and stress with this exper­i­ment: Atten­tion and work­ing memory

Let me share some key take-aways from the work­shop, together with some exer­cises we used to illus­trate key points:

1) Stress can be a major road­block for peak per­for­mance and health
2) Some tips and tech­niques to bet­ter man­age stress:
a) Pick your bat­tles Read the rest of this entry »

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