Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Virtual “Brain Games” roundtable: Why we can, and SHOULD, train our brains

brainGames_new seasonIn prepa­ra­tion for the new sea­son of Nation­al Geographic’s Brain Games, start­ing this Sun­day Feb­ru­ary 14th, their pro­duc­ers asked us to par­tic­i­pate in a vir­tu­al round­table around this thought-pro­vok­ing ques­tion:

Do you think indi­vid­u­als can train their brain to respond in a par­tic­u­lar way to cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, or do you think our brain’s innate “star­tle response” is too hard­wired to alter?

Short answer: Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Study Links Emotional Self-Regulation and Math Performance

Brain Study Points to Poten­tial Treat­ments for Math Anx­i­ety (Edu­ca­tion Week):

  • The study, pub­lished this morn­ing in the jour­nal Cere­bral Cor­tex, is a con­tin­u­a­tion of work on high­ly math-anx­ious peo­ple being con­duct­ed by Sian L. Beilock, asso­ciate psy­chol­o­gy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, and doc­tor­al can­di­date Ian M. Lyons. In pri­or research, Beilock has found that just the thought of doing math prob­lems can trig­ger stress respons­es in peo­ple with math anx­i­ety, and adult teach­ers can pass their trep­i­da­tion about math on to their stu­dents.” Read the rest of this entry »

Who Says This is The Classroom of the Future?

The New York Times has recent­ly pub­lished sev­er­al very good and seem­ing­ly unre­lat­ed articles…let’s try and con­nect some dots. What if we ques­tioned the very premise behind nam­ing some class­rooms the “class­rooms of the future” sim­ply because they have been adding tech­nol­o­gy in lit­er­al­ly mind­less ways? What if the Edu­ca­tion of the Future (some­times also referred to as “21st Cen­tu­ry Skills”) wasn’t so much about the How we edu­cate but about the What we want stu­dents to learn and devel­op, apply­ing what we know about mind and brain to the needs they are like­ly to face dur­ing the next 50–70 years of their lives? Read the rest of this entry »

Debunking 10 Brain Training/ Cognitive Health Myths

Think about this: How can any­one take care of his or her brain when every week brings a new bar­rage of arti­cles and stud­ies which seem to con­tra­dict each oth­er?

Do sup­ple­ments improve mem­o­ry? Do you need both phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise or is one of them enough? Which brain train­ing approach, if any, is worth one’s time and mon­ey?

We tried to address these ques­tions, and many oth­ers, in our recent book, The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­nessSharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book (182 pages, $24.95), that we pre­sent­ed at Games for Health Con­fer­ence last week. The book is the result of over two years of exten­sive research includ­ing more than a hun­dred inter­views with sci­en­tists, pro­fes­sion­als and con­sumers, and a deep review of the sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture, led by neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist Elkhonon Gold­berg and myself with the help of cog­ni­tive sci­en­tist Pas­cale Mich­e­lon. As we wrote in the Intro­duc­tion, what we want­ed to do first of all was to debunks these 10 myths on brain health and brain train­ing:

Myth 1. Genes deter­mine the fate of our brains.
Facts: Life­long neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty allows our lifestyles and actions to play a mean­ing­ful role in how our brains phys­i­cal­ly evolve, espe­cial­ly giv­en longer life expectan­cy.

Myth 2. Aging means auto­mat­ic decline.
Facts: There is noth­ing inher­ent­ly fixed in the pre­cise tra­jec­to­ry of how brain func­tions evolve as we age.

Myth 3. Med­ica­tion is the main hope for cog­ni­tive enhance­ment.
Facts: Non-inva­sive inter­ven­tions can have com­pa­ra­ble and more durable effects, side effect-free.

Myth 4. We will soon have a Mag­ic Pill or Gen­er­al Solu­tion to solve all our cog­ni­tive chal­lenges.
Facts: A mul­ti-pronged approach is rec­om­mend­ed, cen­tered around nutri­tion, stress man­age­ment, and both phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise.

Myth 5. There is only one “Use It or Lose it”.
Facts: The brain is com­posed of a num­ber of spe­cial­ized units. Our life and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty depend on a vari­ety of brain func­tions, not just one.

Myth 6. All brain activ­i­ties or exer­cis­es are equal.
Facts: Var­ied and tar­get­ed exer­cis­es are the nec­es­sary ingre­di­ents in brain train­ing so that a wide range of brain func­tions can be stim­u­lat­ed.

Myth 7. There is only one way to train your brain.
Facts: Brain func­tions can be impact­ed in a num­ber of ways: through med­i­ta­tion, cog­ni­tive ther­a­py, cog­ni­tive train­ing.

Myth 8. We all have some­thing called “Brain Age”.
Facts: Brain age is a fic­tion. No two indi­vid­u­als have the same brain or expres­sion of brain func­tions.

Myth 9. That “brain age”‚ can be reversed by 10, 20, 30 years.
Facts: Brain train­ing can improve spe­cif­ic brain func­tions, but, with research avail­able today, can­not be said to roll back one “brain age”‚ by a num­ber of years.

Myth 10. All human brains need the same brain train­ing.
Facts: As in phys­i­cal fit­ness, users must ask them­selves: What func­tions do I need to improve on? In what time­frame? What is my bud­get?

Do you have oth­er myths in mind you would like  us to address?

We have start­ed to receive great feed­back from the health­care com­mu­ni­ty, such as this email from a neu­ro­sur­geon in Texas:

I real­ly like the book, it is com­pre­hen­sive with­out being too tech­ni­cal. I have rec­om­mend­ed it to sev­er­al patients. There are some oth­er books that I expect­ed would be greet­ed with enthu­si­asm, but were too com­plex for most of my patients. I think this book is right in the sweet spot”.

A short, sweet, enter­tain­ing read of a com­plex top­ic, with time­ly (writ­ten in 1/09) reviews of 21 top tech­nol­o­gy prod­ucts, as well as informed and expert pre­dic­tions of where this bur­geon­ing brain-fit­ness field is head­ed. More impor­tant­ly, after you read it, you’ll have a good, detailed sense of where you, per­son­al­ly, can act to improve your own couch-pota­to brain — and how to keep it fit and flex­i­ble your whole life. The Sharp­Brains Guide To Brain Fit­ness reminds of us all why books (and not just googling a top­ic) can be well worth your time and mon­ey. Two Stetho­scopes Up — check it out. life.”

And this great book review by an Internist Physi­cian and Robert Wood John­son Foun­da­tion Fel­low, titled Is Your Brain A Couch Pota­to?:

Doc Gur­ley, book review for SFGate.com (06/08/09)

The bookThe Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness (avail­able via Amazon.com Here, review copies avail­able upon request).

Descrip­tion: While most of us have heard the phrase “use it or lose it,” very few under­stand what it means, or how to prop­er­ly ‚“use it”‚¬ in order to main­tain brain func­tion and fit­ness. The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness is an invalu­able guide that helps read­ers nav­i­gate grow­ing brain research and iden­ti­fy the lifestyle fac­tors and prod­ucts that con­tribute to brain health and fit­ness. By gath­er­ing insights from eigh­teen of the world’s top sci­en­tists and offer­ing tools and detailed descrip­tions of over twen­ty prod­ucts, this book is an essen­tial guide to the field of brain fit­ness, neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty and cog­ni­tive health. An acces­si­ble and thought-pro­vok­ing read, The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness edu­cates life­long learn­ers and pro­fes­sion­als in health­care, edu­ca­tion, busi­ness, etc., on emerg­ing trends and fore­casts of what the future will hold.

Prod­ucts Reviewed (we reviewed sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies pub­lished before Jan­u­ary 2009, when the man­u­script text was closed):

- Over­all brain main­te­nance: Brain Age series (Nin­ten­do), Brain­Ware Safari (Learn­ing Enhance­ment Cor­po­ra­tion), FitBrains.com (Viv­i­ty Labs), Happy-Neuron.com (Sci­en­tif­ic Brain Train­ing), Lumosity.com (Lumos Labs), Mind­Fit (Cog­niFit), (m)Power (Dakim)

- Tar­get­ed brain work­out: Clas­sic and InSight (Posit Sci­ence), Work­ing Mem­o­ry Train­ing JM and RM (Cogmed), Dri­ve­Fit (Cog­niFit), Earo­bics (Houghton Mif­flin), Fast For­Word (Sci­en­tif­ic Learn­ing), Intel­li­Gym (Applied Cog­ni­tive Engi­neer­ing), Vision Rest­pra­tion Ther­a­py (NovaV­i­sion)

- Emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion: emWave PC and Per­son­al Stress Reliev­er (Heart­Math), Jour­ney to the Wild Divine (Wild Divine), RES­PeR­ATE (Inter­Cure), StressEras­er (Helicor)

ETech09: on Life Hacking and Brain Training

Here you have the pre­sen­ta­tion I deliv­ered on Tues­day at ETech 2009 (this year’s O’Reilly Emerg­ing Tech­nol­o­gy Con­fer­ence):

Emerg­ing Research and Tech­nol­o­gy for Life Hacking/ Brain Train­ing

(click to open pre­sen­ta­tion in new win­dow)

Descrip­tion: Life hack­ing. Brain train­ing. They are one and the same. The brain’s frontal lobes enable our goal-ori­ent­ed behav­ior, sup­port­ing exec­u­tive func­tions, such as deci­sion-mak­ing, atten­tion, emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion, goal-set­ting, and work­ing mem­o­ry. These func­tions can be enhanced with tar­get­ed prac­tice  such as life hack­ing. This ses­sion will pro­vide an overview of the cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science under­pin­ning life hack­ing, and review the state-of-the-art of non-inva­sive tools for brain train­ing: neu­ro­feed­back, biofeed­back, soft­ware appli­ca­tions, cog­ni­tive sim­u­la­tions, Tran­scra­nial Mag­net­ic Stim­u­la­tion, and plain-old med­i­ta­tion.

It was great to meet fel­low blog­gers and pre­sen­ters, such as Shel­ley Batts of Of Two Minds and Chris Patil of Ouroboros, and very inquisite and through­ful audi­ence mem­bers. Get­ting ready to speak at ASA/ NCOA and IHRSA next week!

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