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Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Physical and Mental Exercise: Why Pitch One Against the other?

Read­er There­sa Cerul­li just for­ward­ed this Let­ter to the Edi­tor that she had sent to the New York Times and went unpub­lished. The let­ter address­es the OpEd men­tioned here (pitch­ing phys­i­cal vs. men­tal exer­cise), and refers to the Cogmed work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing pro­gram, whose results have been stud­ied in mul­ti­ple papers pub­lished in top med­ical and sci­en­tif­ic jour­nals.

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Dear Edi­tor:

I applaud San­dra Aamodt and Sam Wang for throw­ing some cold water on the cur­rent brain fit­ness craze in their recent New York Times Mag­a­zine Opin­ion Edi­to­r­i­al “Exer­cise on the Brain.”  They are cor­rect in label­ing the host of “men­tal fit­ness” prod­ucts that tar­get aging baby boomers as “inspired by sci­ence ”  not to be con­fused with actu­al­ly proven by sci­ence. For the last 30 years, terms like “brain plas­tic­i­ty” have been wide­ly and casu­al­ly used, cre­at­ing hype that risks drown­ing out the real break­throughs that brain researchers are mak­ing in this area.

How­ev­er, I would like to dis­tin­guish the “men­tal fit­ness” trend that Aamodt and Wang right­ly crit­i­cize from actu­al researched-based cog­ni­tive train­ing such as the Cogmed pro­gram devel­oped in Swe­den. Unlike “men­tal fit­ness” pro­grams, cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams focus very nar­row­ly on spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive func­tions that research has shown to be plas­tic. This is in stark con­trast to com­pil­ing a smat­ter­ing of exer­cis­es or activ­i­ties that are gen­er­al­ly thought to be Read the rest of this entry »

Exercise On the Brain: a NYT OpEd

Brain Health NewsThe New York Times just pub­lished an OpEd that may be throw­ing out the baby with the bath water.

Exer­cise on the Brain extols the virtue of phys­i­cal exer­cise for brain health at the expense of oth­er impor­tant pil­lars such as good nutri­tion, stress man­age­ment and men­tal exer­cise.

We have sent a Let­ter to the Edi­tor to clar­i­fy the sub­ject and put their main rec­om­men­da­tion (go out and walk, or join the gym) in bet­ter con­text.

Let’s quick­ly review the four essen­tial pil­lars to help main­tain a healthy brain, and sug­gest some tips. Those pil­lars are:

  • Phys­i­cal Exer­cise
  • Men­tal Exer­cise
  • Good Nutri­tion
  • Stress Man­age­ment
  1. 1. Phys­i­cal Exer­cise
    • - Start by talk­ing to your doc­tor, espe­cial­ly if you are not cur­rent­ly phys­i­cal­ly active, have spe­cial health con­cerns, or are mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant changes to your cur­rent pro­gram.
    • - Set a goal that you can achieve. Do some­thing you enjoy for even just 15 min­utes a day. You can always add more time and activ­i­ties lat­er.
    • - Sched­ule exer­cise into your dai­ly rou­tine. It will be become a habit faster if you do.
    • - If you can only do one thing, do some­thing car­dio­vas­cu­lar, mean­ing some­thing that gets your heart beat­ing faster. This includes walk­ing, run­ning, ski­ing, swim­ming, bik­ing, hik­ing, ten­nis, bas­ket­ball, play­ing tag, ulti­mate Fris­bee, and oth­er sim­i­lar sports/activities.
  2. 2. Men­tal Exer­cise
    • - Be curi­ous! Get to know your local library and com­mu­ni­ty col­lege, look for local orga­ni­za­tions or church­es that offer class­es or work­shops
    • - Do a vari­ety of things, includ­ing things you aren’t good at (if you like to sing, try paint­ing too)
    • - Work puz­zles like cross­words and sudoku or play games like chess and bridge
    • - Try a com­put­er­ized brain fit­ness pro­gram for a cus­tomized work­out
    • - If you can only do one thing, learn some­thing new every day
  3. Good Nutri­tion
    • - Eat a vari­ety of foods of dif­fer­ent col­ors with­out a lot of added ingre­di­ents or process­es
    • - Plan your meals around your veg­eta­bles, and then add fruit, pro­tein, dairy, and/or grains
    • - Add some cold-water fish to your diet (tuna, salmon, mack­er­el, hal­ibut, sar­dines, and her­ring) which con­tain omega-3 fat­ty acids
    • - Learn what a por­tion-size is, so you don’t overeat
    • - Try to eat more foods low on the Glycemic Index
    • - If you can only do one thing, eat more veg­eta­bles, par­tic­u­lar­ly leafy green ones
  4. Stress Man­age­ment
    • - Get reg­u­lar car­dio­vas­cu­lar exer­cise
    • - Try to get enough sleep each night
    • - Keep con­nect­ed with your friends and fam­i­ly
    • - Prac­tice med­i­ta­tion, yoga, or some oth­er calm­ing activ­i­ty as way to take a relax­ing time-out (maybe a bath)
    • - Try train­ing with a heart rate vari­abil­i­ty biofeed­back sensor 
    • - If you can only do one thing, set aside 5–10 min­utes to just breathe deeply and recharge

Blog Carnivals, Thanksgiving and Mission Accomplishing

Big par­ty today. Car­ni­vals everywhere. 

Car­o­line and I admit we are quite biased. We see the world through our own lens­es. Which, these days, means a lot of pas­sion for the sci­ence-based Brain Fit­ness Rev­o­lu­tion. We have been try­ing hard to com­bine fun brain teasers with seri­ous posts on how brain research is start­ing to influ­ence Edu­ca­tion, Health and Train­ing, and are thank­ful that these efforts are start­ing to pay off-Mis­sion Accom­plish­ing!

The week­end start­ed very well. Kevin from IQ Cor­ner and Tick­Tock­BrainTalk had brought great ear­ly aus­pices by intro­duc­ing a Sharp­Brains feed box into his blog. A num­ber of trad­ing blogs, includ­ing Brett Steenbarger’s and Trad­er Mike’s, enjoyed our posts on trad­er per­for­mance and biofeed­back.

Today has been the full Car­ni­val day. Read the rest of this entry »

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