Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Brain Fitness Newsletter: December Edition

Brain exercise, brain exercisesI hope you are hav­ing a joy­ful hol­i­day sea­son, and wish you a Hap­py and Pros­per­ous 2008. The Brain Fit­ness field has made a great deal of progress in 2007, and we are look­ing for­ward the New Year.

Here you are have the Month­ly Digest of our Most Pop­u­lar Blog Posts. You can con­sid­er it your month­ly Brain Fitness/ Exer­cise Newslet­ter.

(Also, remem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive our blog RSS feed, or to our month­ly newslet­ter at the top of this page if you want to receive this month­ly Digest by email).

Let me first of all intro­duce you to our new “Author Speaks Series”, where we will give lead­ing sci­en­tists and experts a forum to present their new brain-relat­ed books. We are hon­ored to kick­start the series with Lar­ry McCleary, for­mer act­ing Chief of Pedi­atric Neu­ro­surgery at Den­ver Children’s Hos­pi­tal. You can read Here his arti­cle on how to keep a brain-friend­ly lifestyle. This series will com­ple­ment our ongo­ing Neu­ro­science Inter­view Series.

Brain Fit­ness in the News

Brain Fit­ness @ PBS: PBS fea­tured a fan­tas­tic spe­cial pro­gram on neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty and brain fit­ness dur­ing the month of Decem­ber. Before you ask: as of today, the DVD of the pro­gram is still not avail­able in PBS online shop. We expect to see it there in 2–3 weeks. We will keep you informed.

The Huff­in­g­ton Post start­ed fea­tur­ing a col­umn writ­ten by me: you may enjoy tak­ing a look at Alvaro Fer­nan­dez — Liv­ing on The Huff­in­g­ton Post.

Jog­ging our Brains for Brain Vital­i­ty, Healthy Aging-and Intel­li­gence!: a roundup of sev­er­al great recent arti­cles on mem­o­ry, aging, IQ and cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties such as self-con­trol.

Health & Well­ness

Brain Train­ing: No Mag­ic Bul­let, Yet Use­ful Tool. Inter­view with Eliz­a­beth Zelin­s­ki: Dr. Zelin­s­ki, lead­ing researcher of the IMPACT study, shares fas­ci­nat­ing insights. For exam­ple: “…cog­ni­tive enhance­ment requires the engage­ment in a vari­ety of activ­i­ties, those activ­i­ties must be nov­el, adap­tive and chal­leng­ing-which is why com­put­er-based pro­grams can be help­ful. But even at a more basic lev­el, what mat­ters is being engaged with life, con­tin­u­al­ly exposed to stim­u­lat­ing activ­i­ties, always try­ing to get out of our com­fort zones, doing our best at what­ev­er we are doing. A major typ­i­cal mis­con­cep­tion is that there is only one gen­er­al intel­li­gence to care about. In real­i­ty, we have many dif­fer­ent cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties, such as atten­tion, mem­o­ry, lan­guage, rea­son­ing, and more, so it makes sense to have dif­fer­ent pro­grams designed to train and improve each of them.”

How to Eval­u­ate and Choose a Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram: To help you nav­i­gate the grow­ing num­ber of com­put­er-based pro­grams and games, we pub­lished this 10-Ques­tion Check­list, based on dozens of inter­views with sci­en­tists, experts and con­sumers.

Trav­el and Engage­ment as Good Brain Exer­cise: As we’ve seen, nov­el­ty, vari­ety and chal­lenge are the key guide­lines for “brain exer­cise” that help build new neur­al con­nec­tions, force one to be mind­ful and pay atten­tion, improve abil­i­ties such as pat­tern-recog­ni­tion, and gen­er­al­ly con­tribute to life­long brain health. In this post we fea­ture the brain build­ing / mind expand­ing expe­ri­ence of a Sharp­Brains friend work­ing in Namib­ia.

Alzheimer’s Pre­ven­tion and Diag­nos­tic Tests: analy­sis of sev­er­al recent arti­cles on emerg­ing research behind Alzheimer’s diag­nos­tic and pre­ven­tion.

Cor­po­rate Well­ness and Train­ing

Cog­ni­tive Reserve and Intel­lec­tu­al­ly Demand­ing Jobs: a recent study shows how “Intel­lec­tu­al­ly demand­ing work was asso­ci­at­ed with greater ben­e­fit to cog­ni­tive per­for­mance in lat­er life inde­pen­dent of relat­ed fac­tors like edu­ca­tion and intel­li­gence.”

Cog­ni­tive Health and Baby Boomers- 6 Points to Keep in Mind: based upon an excel­lent McK­in­sey report titled Serv­ing Aging Baby Boomers, we dis­cuss a vari­ety a news arti­cles, includ­ing inter­est­ing num­bers, some bad news, and some good news.

Life­long Learn­ing Is Chang­ing My Brain: Andreas, the neu­ro­science PhD stu­dent who spent last sum­mer work­ing with Sharp­Brains, writes some reflec­tions on his expe­ri­ence and on how sci­en­tists and busi­ness pro­fes­sion­als can learn from each oth­er.

Brain Teasers

Trav­el­er IQ Game: Check out this stim­u­lat­ing online game…

Events

Learn­ing & The Brain Con­fer­ence, Feb­ru­ary 5–7 2008, San Fran­cis­co: Sign up now for this great con­fer­ence for edu­ca­tors who want to learn about the lat­est brain research find­ings and impli­ca­tions. I will be speak­ing at the con­fer­ence giv­ing an overview of inno­v­a­tive cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams. The orga­niz­ers are offer­ing a Spe­cial Dis­count for Sharp­Brains read­ers until Jan­u­ary 25th 2008, so click here if inter­est­ed.

If we don’t talk beforehand…Happy New Year!

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You can also enjoy our pre­vi­ous edi­tions of our Brain Fit­ness Newslet­ter:

- Novem­ber Edi­tion

- Octo­ber Edi­tion

- Sep­tem­ber Edi­tion

- August Edi­tion

- July Edi­tion

Brain Evolution and Why it is Meaningful Today to Improve Our Brain Health

Over the last months, thanks to the traf­fic growth of SharpBrains.com (over 100,000 unique vis­i­tors per month these days, THANK YOU for vis­it­ing today and please come back!), a num­ber of proac­tive book agents, pub­lish­ers and authors have con­tact­ed us to inform us of their lat­est brain-relat­ed books. We have tak­en a look at many books, wrote reviews of The Dana Guide to Brain Health book review‚ and Best of the Brain from Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can, and inter­viewed sci­en­tists such as Judith Beck, Robert Emmons and James Zull.

Brain Trust ProgramNow we are launch­ing a new Author Speaks Series to pro­vide a plat­form for lead­ing sci­en­tists and experts writ­ing high-qual­i­ty brain-relat­ed books to reach a wide audi­ence. We are hon­ored to start the series with an arti­cle by Lar­ry McCleary, M.D, for­mer act­ing Chief of Pedi­atric Neu­ro­surgery at Den­ver Children’s Hos­pi­tal, and author of The Brain Trust Pro­gram: A Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly Based Three-Part Plan to Improve Mem­o­ry, Ele­vate Mood, Enhance Atten­tion, Alle­vi­ate Migraine and Menopausal Symp­toms, and Boost Men­tal Ener­gy (Perigee Trade, 2007).

With­out fur­ther ado, let’s enjoy Dr. McCleary’s arti­cle:

Brain Evo­lu­tion and Why it is Mean­ing­ful Today to Improve Our Brain Health

You may feel over­whelmed by the stream of seem­ing­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry sug­ges­tions regard­ing the best way to main­tain men­tal clar­i­ty as you age. Based on an analy­sis of sem­i­nal fac­tors in the devel­op­ment of mod­ern brain anato­my, I believe it is pos­si­ble to make some very com­pelling rec­om­men­da­tions for grow­ing big brains, enhanc­ing their func­tion, and mak­ing them resis­tant to the aging process. These may be loose­ly cat­e­go­rized as fac­tors per­tain­ing to the men­tal or phys­i­cal attrib­ut­es of the brain. Although they are not tru­ly inde­pen­dent enti­ties, such a con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion pro­vides a basis for the gen­er­a­tion of brain healthy pre­scrip­tions. Diet, phys­i­cal exer­cise, and stress reduc­tion enhance neu­ronal resilience. Sleep and men­tal stim­u­la­tion are vital for cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty, learn­ing, and mem­o­ry.

Diet: Fol­low a mod­ern shore-based/­ma­rine diet includ­ing seafood in its most gen­er­al sense, non-starchy veg­eta­bles of all col­ors, berries, and eggs. Oth­er sources of lean pro­tein con­tain­ing long-chain omega 3 fat­ty acids such as free range beef, chick­en, bison, or elk are nutri­tious alter­na­tives.

Phys­i­cal exer­cise (Think fight or flight — activ­i­ty.): Include all types. Aer­o­bic activ­i­ties such as swim­ming, bicy­cling, walk­ing, or hik­ing for pro­mo­tion of vas­cu­lar health and weight con­trol; resis­tance train­ing for pro­mo­tion of neu­rotroph­ic fac­tors, nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring com­pounds that make brain cells more resis­tant to aging, such as IGF-1 (Insulin-like growth fac­tor-1) and BDNF (Brain-derived neu­rotroph­ic fac­tor); and bal­ance, coor­di­na­tion, and agili­ty train­ing such as ping-pong, bal­ance beam, tram­po­line, and jump­ing rope to enhance cog­ni­tive speed and motor skills.

Stress Con­trol: From an evo­lu­tion­ary per­spec­tive, stres­sors (such as meet­ing a cave bear) and intense phys­i­cal activ­i­ty (run­ning or fight­ing) were brief in dura­tion and usu­al­ly occurred togeth­er. Mod­ern stres­sors (psy­cho­log­i­cal or emo­tion­al stress) tend to be unremit­ting and are gen­er­al­ly uncou­pled from the phys­i­cal (fight or flight) com­po­nent, mean­ing stress devel­ops with­out any asso­ci­at­ed phys­i­cal activ­i­ty. Such intense phys­i­cal pur­suits are now called exer­cise. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, exer­cise is a per­fect phys­i­o­log­ic anti­dote for stress due to its ben­e­fi­cial impact on cor­ti­sol (the stress hor­mone) and blood pres­sure and should be incor­po­rat­ed into any pro­gram of stress reduc­tion.

Ade­quate sleep: The body needs rest, but the brain requires sleep. Acute or chron­ic sleep depri­va­tion caus­es dev­as­tat­ing short and long-term con­se­quences to brain anato­my (synap­tic loss) and func­tion (mem­o­ry and learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties). Off-line infor­ma­tion pro­cess­ing and mem­o­ry con­sol­i­da­tion are addi­tion­al sleep-relat­ed ben­e­fits.

Men­tal stim­u­la­tion: Brain-train­ing, a cog­ni­tive­ly chal­leng­ing lifestyle, nov­el­ty, and social­iza­tion are vital for the pro­mo­tion of neu­ronal plas­tic­i­ty and neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis (the for­ma­tion of new nerve cells and neu­ronal con­nec­tions), the enhance­ment of spe­cif­ic brain func­tions such as mem­o­ry, and the devel­op­ment of cog­ni­tive reserve — addi­tion­al men­tal pro­cess­ing poten­tial that may be brought online when need­ed.

The com­bi­na­tion of these rec­om­men­da­tions, each of which was instru­men­tal in the trans­for­ma­tion from prim­i­tive to mod­ern ner­vous sys­tems, pro­vides a tem­plate for the most log­i­cal approach for enhanc­ing men­tal func­tion and resist­ing neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion as we trav­el through life.

The Evo­lu­tion­ary Ratio­nale

The human brain clear­ly has the genet­ic poten­tial for dra­mat­ic expan­sion. This was illus­trat­ed about Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Yoga: Stress — Killing You Softly

It’s clear that our soci­ety has changed faster than our genes. Instead of being faced with phys­i­cal, imme­di­ate­ly life-threat­en­ing crises that demand instant action, these days we deal with events and ill­ness­es that gnaw away at us slow­ly with­out any stress release.

Dr. Robert Sapol­sky, in an inter­view about his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, points out that humans unique­ly “can get stressed sim­ply with thought, turn­ing on the same stress response as does the zebra.” But, the zebra releas­es the stress hor­mones through life-pre­serv­ing action, while we usu­al­ly just keep mud­dling along, get­ting more anx­ious by the moment.

Pro­longed expo­sure to the adren­al steroid hor­mones, like cor­ti­sol, released dur­ing stress can dam­age the brain and block the for­ma­tion of new neu­rons in the hip­pocam­pus, which is the key play­er in encod­ing new mem­o­ries in your brain. Recent stud­ies have shown these neu­rons can be regen­er­at­ed with learn­ing and envi­ron­men­tal stim­u­la­tion, but while short-term stress may improve atten­tion and mem­o­ry, chron­ic stress leads indi­rect­ly to cell death and ham­pers our abil­i­ty to make changes and be cre­ative enough to even think of pos­si­ble changes to reduce the stress.

What are the best defens­es against chron­ic stress?

1. Exer­cise strength­ens the body and can reduce the expe­ri­ence of stress, depres­sion, and anx­i­ety. Exer­cise pro­motes arousal and relax­ation and improves qual­i­ty of sleep.

2. Relax­ation through med­i­ta­tion, biofeed­back, yoga, or oth­er tech­niques to low­er blood pres­sure, slow res­pi­ra­tion, slow metab­o­lism, and release mus­cle ten­sion.

3. Empow­er­ment because atti­tudes of per­son­al con­fi­dence and con­trol of your envi­ron­ment, even if illu­so­ry, resolve the stress response.

4. Social net­work of friends, fam­i­ly, and even pets help fos­ter trust, sup­port, and relax­ation.

So hey, go ahead, call your mom. It may save your life!

Fur­ther resources:
Brain Fit­ness Arti­cles, Now with Some Humor
Robert Sapol­sky on Stress
Stress Man­age­ment Tips from the Serengeti
Pre­na­tal stress sup­press­es cell pro­lif­er­a­tion in the ear­ly devel­op­ing brain

Let us know what you think!

About SharpBrains

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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