Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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What is Brain Fitness? How to Enhance Brain Fitness?

We define Brain Fit­ness as hav­ing the brain-based cog­ni­tive, emo­tion­al and self-reg­u­la­tion capac­i­ties required to suc­ceed in one’s envi­ron­ment. Not every­one is exposed to the same men­tal demands nor do we all have the same start­ing points. This means we need to stop look­ing for ‘mag­ic pills’ and invest more resources in devel­op­ing toolk­its and infra­struc­ture sim­i­lar to what the phys­i­cal fit­ness indus­try has done over the last 30–40 years.

The fol­low­ing ques­tion guides much of our work at Sharp­Brains: “What tools pro­vide the right kind of expe­ri­ence to refine our brains from a struc­tur­al and func­tion­al point of view to har­ness neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty into real-world ben­e­fits?” We try to pro­vide good infor­ma­tion and answers by con­stant­ly mon­i­tor­ing and ana­lyz­ing the state of sci­ence and the marketplace—and by shar­ing these analy­ses via appro­pri­ate plat­forms with orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­u­als. Sharp­Brains doesn’t sell, devel­op or endorse prod­ucts in order to avoid con­flicts of inter­est.

The main con­text for brain fit­ness is this: The human brain is now con­sid­ered to be a high­ly dynam­ic and con­stant­ly reor­ga­niz­ing sys­tem capa­ble of being shaped—and reshaped—across an entire lifes­pan. Grow­ing evi­dence sup­ports the val­ue of a range of lifestyle fac­tors and non-inva­sive inter­ven­tions in main­tain­ing and enhanc­ing cog­ni­tive func­tions at each life stage—leveraging life­long brain plas­tic­i­ty. In our con­sumer-fac­ing book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness (May 2009), we empha­size the fol­low­ing four ‘pil­lars’ of brain fit­ness: aer­o­bic phys­i­cal exer­cise, men­tal exer­cise, bal­anced nutri­tion and stress man­age­ment.

From these, the two gath­er­ing the most research evi­dence are (1.) aer­o­bic phys­i­cal exer­cise and (2.) men­tal exer­cise – par­tic­u­lar­ly struc­tured cog­ni­tive exer­cise such as med­i­ta­tion, cog­ni­tive behav­ioral ther­a­py and cog­ni­tive train­ing. It’s impor­tant to rec­og­nize that the respec­tive mech­a­nisms and ben­e­fits seem to be dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed and com­ple­men­tary. Aer­o­bic exer­cise appears to bring a wide vari­ety of brain-based (neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis, nerve growth and angio­gen­e­sis) cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits. Men­tal exer­cise may result in addi­tion­al brain-based (neu­ron sur­vival, neu­ron migra­tion) cog­ni­tive benefits—delaying the onset of cog­ni­tive decline, low­er­ing prob­a­bil­i­ty of Alzheimer’s Dis­ease symp­toms and tar­get­ing cog­ni­tive improve­ments with­out a ceil­ing on enhanced results.

At present, a mul­ti-pronged approach appears most like­ly to result in over­all brain health, while tech­nol­o­gy-based assess­ments, ther­a­pies and train­ing tools can guide and deliv­er more tar­get­ed ben­e­fits and become a core com­po­nent of the over­all brain health mix—given effi­cien­cy and scal­a­bil­i­ty. It is impor­tant to note that the Sys­tem­at­ic Evi­dence Review* pub­lished in April 2010 by an inde­pen­dent, NIH-appoint­ed expert pan­el, to sum­ma­rize the state of sci­ence for pre­ven­tion of Alzheimer’s Dis­ease and cog­ni­tive decline, found that the only pro­tec­tive fac­tor (mean­ing, decreas­es risk) against cog­ni­tive decline that is sup­port­ed by the high­est qual­i­ty of evi­dence is cog­ni­tive train­ing (a type of “brain train­ing”). Oth­er fac­tors such as phys­i­cal activ­i­ty, a Mediter­ranean diet and cog­ni­tive engage­ment in gen­er­al also seemed pro­tec­tive when evi­dence of low­er sci­en­tif­ic qual­i­ty was includ­ed in the mix.

*Ref­er­ence: Williams JW, Plass­man BL, Burke J, Holsinger T, Ben­jamin S. Pre­vent­ing Alzheimer’s Dis­ease and Cog­ni­tive Decline. Evi­dence Report/Technology Assess­ment No. 193. (Pre­pared by the Duke Evi­dence-based Prac­tice Cen­ter under Con­tract No. HHSA 290‑2007-10066-I.) AHRQ Pub­li­ca­tion No. 10-E005. Rockville, MD: Agency for Health­care Research and Qual­i­ty. April 2010. Avail­able online at: (http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/tp/alzcogtp.htm).

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2 Responses

  1. Great infor­ma­tion! I espe­cial­ly like, prac­tice and coach on aer­o­bic phys­i­cal exer­cise and men­tal exer­cise. I like to get my men­tal exer­cise from a vari­ety of sources like medi­a­tion, con­tem­pla­tion and mar­tial arts. I find the mar­tial arts always chal­lenge me men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly. I’m sure danc­ing (ball­room) would do the same thing except I’d like to spare my wife’s feet. Your advice and infor­ma­tion so is crit­i­cal in com­pete per­son­al empow­er­ment that it should be required par­tic­i­pa­tion in every Jr High school and up!

  2. Steve Zanon says:

    Some recent­ly released infor­ma­tion sup­ports the Sharp­Brains com­men­tary above. In the “Final NIH State-of-the-Sci­ence State­ment” an addi­tion­al point was added to the draft response in ques­tion 6 (refer page 11). It now also states .…. “RCTs or prospec­tive cohort stud­ies are urgent­ly required to eval­u­ate com­pre­hen­sive­ly promis­ing pre­ven­tive strate­gies sug­gest­ed by pre­vi­ous stud­ies, such as omega-3 fat­ty acids intake, phys­i­cal exer­cise, and cog­ni­tive train­ing and engage­men­t”. Even though we don’t yet have defin­i­tive inter­ven­tions we do have some promis­ing pre­ven­tive strate­gies. So with any good risk man­age­ment strat­e­gy our best bet is to diver­si­fy risk across sev­er­al of these most promis­ing fac­tors. We don’t have cer­tain­ty but we do have direc­tion and I think that on this point the “Final NIH State-of-the-Sci­ence State­ment” does have an encour­ag­ing mes­sage for the pub­lic.

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking health and performance applications of brain science.

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