Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Barbara Arrowsmith Young: Every kid should practice stress reduction and targeted cognitive exercises at school

Bar­bara Arrow­smith Young

What is your cur­rent job title and orga­ni­za­tion, and what excites you the most about work­ing there?
As dis­cussed in The Brain that Changes Itself and in my own book, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, I launched the Arrow­smith Pro­gram, a suite of cog­ni­tive exercises–now in more that 60 schools–designed to strength­en weak cog­ni­tive areas that under­lie a num­ber of spe­cif­ic learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties and dis­abil­i­ties.

I did so based on my jour­ney to over­come my own severe spe­cif­ic learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, and what excites me now is work­ing with a group of ded­i­cat­ed pro­fes­sion­als with a shared vision of improv­ing the lives of indi­vid­u­als strug­gling with learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties. We want to help them become com­pe­tent, con­fi­dent inde­pen­dent life-long learn­ers who dare to dream and have the cog­ni­tive resources to real­ize those dreams.

Please tell us about your inter­est in brain health and per­for­mance. What areas are you most inter­ested in? What moti­vated you to pur­sue work in your field?
My moti­va­tion grew out of my per­son­al strug­gle with severe learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties. I did not see a future for myself so I set out on a quest to first dis­cov­er the source of my prob­lems, and then to deter­mine a solu­tion. In 1977 I came across the work of A.R. Luria through his book, The Man with a Shat­tered World, which helped me under­stand the source of my prob­lems — spe­cif­ic parts of my brain were not func­tion­ing prop­er­ly. Through Luria’s clin­i­cal descrip­tions I came to iden­ti­fy the nature of the prob­lem. At the same time I was read­ing Mark Rosenzweig’s work demon­strat­ing the brain’s abil­i­ty to change phys­i­o­log­i­cal­ly and func­tion­al­ly as a result of envi­ron­men­tal stim­u­la­tion – neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty.

I took these two lines of research and com­bined them to cre­ate a series of cog­ni­tive exer­cis­es to stim­u­late my brain func­tion in three dis­tinct areas – rea­son­ing, kines­thet­ic per­cep­tion, and spa­tial aware­ness. As I expe­ri­enced the pos­i­tive out­comes of these exer­cis­es, I want­ed to help oth­ers strug­gling as I had and the Arrow­smith Pro­gram was born — and it has grown a lot since.

I am most inter­est­ed in explor­ing the ter­ri­to­ry of the human brain and in find­ing ways to apply what we learn to address even more areas that impact learn­ing.

What is one impor­tant thing you are work­ing on now, and where can peo­ple learn more about it?
Last year, Howard Eaton, Direc­tor of the Eaton Edu­ca­tion­al Group and author of Brain School, joined me in form­ing the Arrow­smith Pro­gram Research Team to work with researchers across North Amer­i­ca and in Aus­tralia to design stud­ies that ana­lyze the brain-based, aca­d­e­m­ic, cog­ni­tive, emo­tion­al and social out­comes that occur as stu­dents engage in our tar­get­ed cog­ni­tive exer­cis­es.

For exam­ple, both Dr. Lara Boyd at the Uni­ver­si­ty of British Colum­bia and Dr. Greg Rose at the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Illi­nois have began con­duct­ing brain imag­ing on stu­dents with spe­cif­ic learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties under­go­ing our pro­gram, and a team from Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­gary pre­sent­ed promis­ing results last month at the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Con­ven­tion in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Peo­ple can learn more here about these research ini­tia­tives.

What are 1–2 key things you’d like every per­son to under­stand about his/ her own brain and mind, that you think are com­mon­ly mis­un­der­stood?
The impor­tance of reduc­ing stress on brain health needs to be bet­ter appre­ci­at­ed. If peo­ple can do one thing a day to reduce stress –med­i­ta­tion, giv­ing grat­i­tude, walk­ing in nature, get­ting a good night’s sleep–this has sig­nif­i­cant pos­i­tive ben­e­fits on brain health and func­tion.

Also I would encour­age peo­ple to work on improv­ing their cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties through con­tin­ued prac­tice – it is pos­si­ble.

Where do you see clear “low-hang­ing fruit” to shape the future and the prac­tice of brain fit­ness?
We need to con­tin­ue to build aware­ness about the impor­tance of keep­ing our brains fit and healthy across our whole lifes­pan. And we also need to show, through events and pub­li­ca­tions such as those pro­duced by Sharp­Brains, how the best evi­dence can be applied in our dai­ly lives. I believe we need to start this as soon as chil­dren enter school so that we help them become good stew­ards of their own brain health. Every child should devote part of the day engag­ing in healthy brain prac­tices from stress reduc­tion to tar­get­ed cog­ni­tive exer­cis­es.

What would you like the 2014 Sharp­Brains Vir­tual Sum­mit to accom­plish?
I’d like this year’s Sum­mit to spark unex­pect­ed con­ver­sa­tions and ideas around how new tech­nolo­gies and pro­grams can be put to good use to help opti­mize the brain health and per­for­mance of large groups of peo­ple.

Final­ly, if I may…what do YOU do to stay sharp?
I walk briskly for 40 min­utes a day sev­er­al times a week, do breath­ing med­i­ta­tion, prac­tice grat­i­tude, try to focus on the pos­i­tive, and keep my mind stim­u­lat­ed by tack­ling new prob­lems and con­stant­ly chal­leng­ing my assump­tions.

2014_SharpBrains_Virtual_Summit_Shaping the Practice and the Future of Brain FitnessThis con­ver­sa­tion is part of a new inter­view series with Spon­sors & Speak­ers @ 2014 Sharp­Brains Vir­tual Sum­mit (Octo­ber 28–30th). You can reg­is­ter with a 10% dis­count using pro­mo­tional code: sharp2014. Please join us!

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Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning, Health & Wellness

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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