Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Top 10 Brain Training Trends — Putting our Cognitive Reserve to Work

Yes­ter­day I had the chance to chat with Yaakov Stern, lead­ing Cog­ni­tive Reserve researcher at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, and then with a group of 25 life­long learn­ers in Ari­zona who attend­ed a brain fit­ness class (hel­lo, Robert and friends!) based on our con­sumer guide The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness. On reflec­tion, I found both con­ver­sa­tions to be very stim­u­lat­ing for the same rea­son: they were for­ward-look­ing, focused not so much on sta­tus quo but on how emerg­ing research, tech­nol­o­gy and trends may impact our soci­ety and lives in years to come. Let’s con­tin­ue the con­ver­sa­tion. Let me share the 10 main trends that we analyzed/ fore­cast­ed in our book, and then ask you, sharp read­ers, to add your own 2 cents to the dis­cus­sion. Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Training Top 10 Future Trends

In an emerg­ing, dynam­ic, high growth mar­ket, like brain train­ing, it is dif­fi­cult to make pre­cise pro­jec­tions. But, we can observe a num­ber of trends that exec­u­tives, con­sumers, pub­lic pol­i­cy mak­ers, and the media should watch close­ly in the com­ing years, as brain fit­ness and train­ing becomes main­stream, new tools appear, and an ecosys­tem grows around it.

1. We pre­dict an increased empha­sis on brain main­te­nance in loca­tions rang­ing from retire­ment com­mu­ni­ties to gyms. As a com­put­er-savvy baby boomer pop­u­la­tion looks for ways to stay men­tal­ly fit, brain fit­ness, or brain train­ing, is becom­ing part of their vocab­u­lary and con­cern.

2. Phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise will be bet­ter inte­grat­ed. Phys­i­cal exer­cise has been shown to increase the rate of neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis, where­as men­tal exer­cise helps ensure the sur­vival of any new­ly cre­at­ed neu­rons. Today both activ­i­ties usu­al­ly take place in very dif­fer­ent set­tings: the for­mer, in health clubs, the lat­er, in uni­ver­si­ties. We pre­dict that the bor­ders between them will become more dif­fuse. Expect new pro­grams such as brain fit­ness pod­casts that allow us to train work­ing mem­o­ry as we jog or exer­cise bikes with built-in brain games.

3. Watch for a Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Fitness for Baby Boomers

One of the best arti­cles so far on the grow­ing brain fit­ness mar­ket, by the Asso­ci­at­ed Press.

Click Here to check out sto­ry:

This is not just a Nin­ten­do-fueled fad,” he says. “The brain fit­ness mar­ket passed a tip­ping point in 2007 thanks to the con­ver­gence of a very proac­tive boomer gen­er­a­tion hit­ting their 60s.”

Arti­cle: Here. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Now, as you read it, please remem­ber the theme of our most recent newslet­ter: Emerg­ing Tools, Not Mag­ic Pills.

And, for all new read­ers who are join­ing us giv­en the extra cov­er­age (CNN, CBS, CHica­go Tri­bune, dozens of oth­er papers and web­sites), let me reprint now an arti­cle I wrote here in Feb­ru­ary:

—————–

A spate of recent news cov­er­age on brain fit­ness and “brain train­ing” reflects a grow­ing inter­est in nat­ur­al, non-drug-based inter­ven­tions to keep our brains sharp as we age. This inter­est is very time­ly, giv­en the aging pop­u­la­tion, increas­ing Alzheimer’s rates, and soar­ing health care costs that place more empha­sis than ever on pre­ven­tion and chang­ing lifestyle.

Read the rest of this entry »

Neuroplasticity 101 and Brain Health Glossary

Giv­en the grow­ing num­ber of arti­cles in the pop­u­lar press men­tion­ing words such as “neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty”, “fMRI” and “cog­ni­tive reserve”, let’s review some key find­ings, con­cepts and terms.

First, a pre­scient quote by Span­ish neu­ro­sci­en­tist San­ti­a­go Ramon y Cajal (1852–1934): “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculp­tor his own brain”.

fmri.jpgThanks to new neu­roimag­ing tech­niques, regard­ed “as impor­tant for neu­ro­science as tele­scopes were for astron­o­my, neu­ro­sci­en­tists and cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gists have been find­ing that the brain has a num­ber of “core capac­i­ties” and “men­tal mus­cles” that can be exer­cised through nov­el­ty, vari­ety and prac­tice, and that exer­cis­ing our brain can influ­ence the gen­er­a­tion of new neu­rons and their con­nec­tions. Brain exer­cise is being rec­og­nized, there­fore, as a crit­i­cal pil­lar of brain health, togeth­er with nutri­tion, phys­i­cal exer­cise and stress man­age­ment.

Pre­vi­ous beliefs about our brain and how it works have been proven false. Some beliefs that have been debunked include claims that adult brains can not cre­ate new neu­rons (shown to be false by Berke­ley sci­en­tists Mar­i­an Dia­mond and Mark Rosen­zweig, and Salk Institute’s Fred Gage), notions that work­ing mem­o­ry has a max­i­mum lim­it of 6 or 7 items (debunked by Karolin­s­ka Insti­tute Torkel Kling­berg), and assump­tions that the brain’s basic process­es can not be reor­ga­nized by repeat­ed prac­tice (UCSF’s Drs. Paula Tal­lal and Michael Merzenich). The “men­tal mus­cles” we can train include atten­tion, stress and emo­tion­al man­age­ment, mem­o­ry, visual/ spa­tial, audi­to­ry process­es and lan­guage, motor coor­di­na­tion and exec­u­tive func­tions like plan­ning and prob­lem-solv­ing.

Men­tal stim­u­la­tion is impor­tant if done in the right sup­port­ive and engag­ing envi­ron­ment. Stanford’s Robert Sapol­sky has proven that chron­ic stress and cor­ti­cal inhi­bi­tion, which may be aggra­vat­ed due to imposed men­tal stim­u­la­tion, may prove coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Hav­ing the right moti­va­tion is essen­tial.

A sur­pris­ing and promis­ing area of sci­en­tif­ic inquiry is Mind­ful­ness-Based Stress Reduc­tion (MBSR). An increas­ing num­ber of neu­ro­sci­en­tists (such as Uni­ver­si­ty of Wisconsin-Madison’s Richard David­son) are inves­ti­gat­ing the abil­i­ty of trained med­i­ta­tors to devel­op and sus­tain atten­tion and visu­al­iza­tions and to work pos­i­tive­ly with pow­er­ful emo­tion­al states and stress through the direct­ed men­tal process­es of med­i­ta­tion prac­tices.

And now, some key­words:

Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram: struc­tured set of brain exer­cis­es, usu­al­ly com­put­er-based, designed to train spe­cif­ic brain areas and process­es in tar­get­ed ways.

Chron­ic Stress: ongo­ing, long-term stress, which blocks the for­ma­tion of new neu­rons and Read the rest of this entry »

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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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