Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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A Brain Fitness Vacation

San PedroA year ago we wrote a Glos­sary where we defined Brain Fit­ness as “the gen­er­al state of good, sharp, brain and mind, espe­cial­ly as the result of men­tal and phys­i­cal exer­cise and prop­er nutri­tion” and a Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram as a “struc­tured set of brain exer­cis­es, usu­al­ly com­put­er-based, designed to train spe­cif­ic brain areas and func­tions in tar­get­ed ways, and mea­sured by brain fit­ness assess­ments.”

Now, thanks to this recent arti­cle Alvaro and Lisa’s Brain Vaca­tion, we can add Brain Fit­ness Vaca­tion: “A brain fit­ness vaca­tion is like a reg­u­lar vaca­tion, only you attend events, do exer­cis­es, and arrange for expe­ri­ences that address the aspects of good brain health: phys­i­cal exer­cise, men­tal exer­cise, good nutri­tion, and stress man­age­ment.”

Dave Bun­nell, the founder and edi­tor of new mag­a­zine ELDR (and pre­vi­ous­ly edi­tor of PC World, PC Mag­a­zine, Upside, and many oth­er mag­a­zines) met Dr. Gold­berg and myself after our speech in SFSU last May. When he showed an inter­est in writ­ing a sto­ry, and I men­tioned half-jok­ing­ly that it would have to wait a few weeks since my wife and I were about to take a much need­ed “brain fit­ness vaca­tion”, he said, well, maybe that’s the sto­ry!.

You can read the full arti­cle here. For the ben­e­fit of the atten­dants to my lec­tures this week, who may be look­ing for some addi­tion­al brain exer­cis­es, here go some quotes:

  • Guessti­ma­tion. Lisa asks Alvaro a ques­tion, “How many trees are there in San Fran­cis­co?” To come up with an answer, Alvaro first tries to guess how many trees, on aver­age, there are in a city block. He then cal­cu­lates approx­i­mate­ly how many blocks there are in a square mile, fol­lowed by how many square miles there are in San Fran­cis­co, and so on.
  • Num­ber Series. Alvaro says, “Two, three,” and Lisa replies, “four, six.” Alvaro then says, “Six, nine,” and Lisa replies, “Eight, twelve.” He says,“Ten, fif­teen,” and the sequence goes on as long and as fast as you can keep doing it.
  • Haiku. Dur­ing the entire vaca­tion, Alvaro and Lisa com­posed haiku for each oth­er every morn­ing. The rule was they couldn’t write them down. They had to cre­ate them in their heads and remem­ber them.
  • Sen­so­ry train­ing. Lisa puts a piece of choco­late into Alvaro’s mouth while his eyes are closed. He lets it melt com­plete­ly with­out chew­ing and with­out open­ing his eyes. Next, he puts a grape in Lisa’s mouth.
  • Visu­al­iza­tions. Alvaro and Lisa sit qui­et­ly for about 15 min­utes, breathe deeply using their diaphragms, and visu­al­ize spe­cial moments from their past, such as the most beau­ti­ful view they’ve ever seen, or a lov­ing per­son­al moment.

Enjoy

Pic cred­it: San Pedro de Alcan­tara, Spain (Wikipedia)

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 »

Books on neuroplasticity and memory training

Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty: the brain’s abil­i­ty to reor­ga­nize itself by form­ing new con­nec­tions through­out life. (see more con­cepts in our Glos­sary).

We coudn’t be hap­pi­er about the grow­ing num­ber of books pop­u­lar­iz­ing the key lessons about brain train­ing that Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg has been research­ing and writ­ing about for years, and that moti­vat­ed us to embark our­selves in the Sharp­Brains adven­ture.

Dis­cov­er Mag­a­zine presents a great arti­cle, Rewiring the Brain, review­ing two recent books.

  • The sub­ti­tle is “Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty can allow for treat­ment of senil­i­ty, post-trau­mat­ic stress, ­obses­sive-com­pul­sive dis­or­der, and depres­sion and Bud­dhists have been cap­i­tal­iz­ing on it for mil­lenia.” I would add that the strong val­ue of life­long learn­ing present in jesuit and jew­ish tra­di­tions reflects the same wis­dom. Some quotes:
  • Two new books, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain (Bal­lan­tine Books, $24.95) by sci­ence jour­nal­ist Sharon Beg­ley and The Brain That Changes Itself (Viking, $24.95) by psy­chi­a­trist Nor­man Doidge, offer mas­ter­ful­ly guid­ed tours through the bur­geon­ing field of neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty research. Each has its own style and empha­sis; both are excel­lent.”
  • Final­ly, both authors con­clude that adult neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty is a vast­ly under­tapped resource, one with which West­ern med­i­cine and psy­chol­o­gy are just now com­ing to grips. An impor­tant emerg­ing research agen­da is to Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Health Newsletter, February Edition, and Brain Awareness Week

We hope you are enjoy­ing the grow­ing cov­er­age of Brain Fit­ness as much as we are. Below you have the Brain Fit­ness Newslet­ter we sent a few days ago-you can sub­scribe to this month­ly email update in the box on the right hand side.

In this post, we will briefly cov­er:

I. Press: see what CBS and Time Mag­a­zine are talk­ing about. Sharp­Brains was intro­duced in the Birm­ing­ham News, Chica­go Tri­bune and in a quick note car­ried by the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion news ser­vice.

II. Events: we are out­reach part­ners for the Learn­ing & the Brain con­fer­ence, which will gath­er neu­ro­sci­en­tists and edu­ca­tors, and for the Dana Foundation’s Brain Aware­ness Week.

III. Pro­gram Reviews: The Wall Street Jour­nal reviewed six dif­fer­ent pro­grams for brain exer­cise and aging, and the one we offer is one of the two win­ners. A col­lege-lev­el coun­sel­ing cen­ter starts offer­ing our stress man­age­ment one. And we inter­view a Notre Dame sci­en­tist who has con­duct­ed a repli­ca­tion study for the work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing pro­gram for kids with ADD/ ADHD.

IV. New Offer­ings: we have start­ed to offer two infor­ma­tion pack­ages that can be very use­ful for peo­ple who want to bet­ter under­stand this field before they com­mit to any par­tic­u­lar pro­gram: learn more about our Brain Fit­ness 101 guide and Exer­cise Your Brain DVD.

V. Web­site and Blog Sum­ma­ry: we revamped our home page and have had a very busy month writ­ing many good arti­cles. We also host­ed two “Blog Car­ni­vals”- don’t you want to know what that means?
Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Fitness Blog Carnival #1

Brain Fitness CarnivalWel­come to the inau­gur­al edi­tion of the Brain Fit­ness Blog Car­ni­val. The tim­ing couldn’t be bet­ter  you have prob­a­bly seen the fea­tured CBS News/TIME Series on Brain Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty.

Thanks to the over 40 peo­ple who sub­mit­ted posts. We have had to select the posts we enjoyed the most to help facil­i­tate an engag­ing and informed con­ver­sa­tion.

Learn­ing is phys­i­cal. Our expe­ri­ence lit­er­al­ly shapes our brains. And vice ver­sa. The media seems to be focus­ing most­ly on brain fit­ness for seniors, but its impli­ca­tions go beyond that, as you will see in this post by Car­o­line: What is Brain Fit­ness?, and the arti­cles in this car­ni­val.

Sci­ence-based under­stand­ing is evolv­ing from “Use it or Lose It” to “Use It and Improve It.”  As Fast Company’s Alan Deutschman provoca­tive­ly puts it in his last book, Change or Die. We couldn’t agree more with his sum­ma­ry rec­om­men­da­tion: “Relate. Repeat. Reframe.” Alan presents a blog arti­cle announc­ing his book (here is his orig­i­nal arti­cle). 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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