Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


In honor of Brain Awareness Week 2017, let’s discuss these 10 Key Facts To Harness Neuroplasticity And Improve Brain Fitness

This week is Brain Aware­ness Week, so let me share–and let’s discuss!–these 10 Key Facts to Har­ness Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty & Improve Brain Fit­ness that come from the hun­dreds of sci­en­tif­ic and med­ical stud­ies we ana­lyzed to pre­pare the book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness: How to Improve Brain Health and Per­for­mance at Any Age:

  • 1. Genes do not deter­mine the fate of our brains. Thanks to life­long neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty, our lifestyles are as impor­tant as our genes-if not more- in how our brains grow and our minds evolve.
  • 2. There is more than one “It” in “Use It or Lose It” — our per­for­mance depends on a vari­ety of brain func­tions and cog­ni­tive skills, not just one (be it “atten­tion” or “mem­o­ry” or any oth­er).
  • 3. Phys­i­cal exer­cise and increased fit­ness pro­mote brain func­tion­ing through a vari­ety of mech­a­nisms, such as increased brain vol­ume, blood sup­ply and growth hor­mone lev­els. In par­tic­u­lar, car­dio­vas­cu­lar exer­cise seems to bring the great­est brain ben­e­fits.
  • 4. Men­tal stim­u­la­tion strength­ens the con­nec­tions between neu­rons (synaps­es), improv­ing neu­ron sur­vival and cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing and build­ing your cog­ni­tive reserve–which helps your brain bet­ter cope both nor­mal aging and Alzheimer’s pathol­o­gy in the long-term.
  • 5. The only leisure activ­i­ty that has been asso­ci­at­ed with reduced cog­ni­tive func­tion is watch­ing tele­vi­sion. What could explain that? Well, rou­tine, pas­sive activ­i­ties do not chal­lenge the brain. Keep­ing up the chal­lenge requires going to the next lev­el of dif­fi­cul­ty, try­ing some­thing new, gen­er­at­ing new thoughts and strate­gies and lessons learned.
  • 6. The Mediter­ranean Diet, sup­ple­ment­ed with olive oil and nuts, is asso­ci­at­ed with decreased risk of cog­ni­tive decline.
  • 7. Mod­er­ate dos­es of caf­feine increase alert­ness but there is no clear sus­tained life­time health ben­e­fit (or harm).
  • 8. Tak­ing “brain sup­ple­ments”  does not seem to boost cog­ni­tive func­tion or reduce risks of cog­ni­tive decline or demen­tia, unless direct­ed to address an iden­ti­fied defi­cien­cy.
  • 9. Chron­ic stress reduces and can even inhib­it neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis. Mem­o­ry and gen­er­al men­tal flex­i­bil­i­ty are impaired by chron­ic stress…so it’s good to see the grow­ing evi­dence that med­i­ta­tion and biofeed­back can suc­cess­ful­ly teach users to self-reg­u­late phys­i­o­log­i­cal stress.
  • 10. No size fits all…so it’s crit­i­cal to under­stand and address indi­vid­ual needs and start­ing point.

What counts in terms of neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty and brain health is not read­ing this article–or any other–but prac­tic­ing healthy behav­iors every day. Revis­it the fact above that real­ly grabbed your atten­tion, ide­al­ly one that you may have over­looked and there­fore may bring most “bang for the buck,” and make a deci­sion to try some­thing new this spring.

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

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