Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Can food improve brain health?

In oth­er words, may some foods be specif­i­cal­ly good for brain func­tion?

For a great in-depth review of the effects of food on the brain you can check out Fer­nan­do Gomez-Pinilla’s recent arti­cle in Nature Reviews Neu­ro­science (ref­er­ence below). Here is an overview of the state off the research.

Sev­er­al com­po­nents of diet seem to have a pos­i­tive effect on brain func­tion.

Omega-3 fat­ty acids

These acids are nor­mal con­stituents of cell mem­branes and are essen­tial for nor­mal brain func­tion. Omega-3 fat­ty acids can be found in fish (salmon), kiwi, and wal­nuts. Docosa­hexaenoic acid, or DHA, is the most abun­dant omega-3 fat­ty acid in cell mem­branes in the brain. The human body pro­duces DHA but not enough. So we are depen­dent on the DHA that we get from what we eat.

A ran­dom­ized dou­ble-blind con­trolled tri­al (which means seri­ous­ly con­duct­ed sci­en­tif­ic study) is cur­rent­ly look­ing at the effect of tak­ing omega-3 fat­ty acids on children’s per­for­mance at school in Eng­land. Pre­lim­i­nary results (Port­wood, 2006) sug­gest that Read the rest of this entry »

Preventing Memory Loss-CQ Researcher

Ever won­dered what explains the some­times sur­re­al, often mis­guid­ed, health poli­cies by our gov­ern­ment? Well,  it is beyond our hum­ble brains to cap­ture and artic­u­late what may be going on…but we now see that lack of access to qual­i­ty infor­ma­tion is cer­tain­ly not the main prob­lem. Deci­sion-mak­ing process­es, and struc­tur­al incen­tives, would prob­a­bly mer­it more atten­tion.…

I men­tion this because we are real­ly impressed by the just-pub­lished 24-page spe­cial Preventing Memory Loss issue on Pre­vent­ing Mem­o­ry Loss by Con­gres­sion­al Quar­ter­ly Researcher, one of the main pub­li­ca­tions in Capi­tol Hill.

The pub­li­ca­tion is not free, but worth the price for any­one active pro­fes­sion­al­ly in the health­care sec­tor, or inter­est­ed in learn­ing about lat­est research and pol­i­cy trends, from aca­d­e­mics to stu­dents. You can buy Buy the Elec­tron­ic PDF ($4.95) or Buy the Print­ed Copy ($15 — $5 dis­count using pro­mo­tion code “L8BRAIN” = $10).

Descrip­tion

As the nation’s baby boomers age, they are increas­ing­ly wor­ried that their mem­o­ries will dete­ri­o­rate — and with good rea­son. An esti­mat­ed 10 mil­lion boomers will devel­op Alzheimer’s dis­ease or anoth­er mem­o­ry-destroy­ing neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive con­di­tion in the com­ing years. Pol­i­cy mak­ers and health offi­cials wor­ry that the result­ing bulge in the num­ber of suf­fer­ers will bur­den the nation’s already strained health-care sys­tem. In the wake of these con­cerns, a vibrant brain-fit­ness indus­try is offer­ing a vari­ety of ways to help peo­ple keep their brains healthy, includ­ing the use of cog­ni­tion-enhanc­ing drugs and exer­cise. But many experts say much of what the pub­lic is being told is of lim­it­ed val­ue, at best. Inten­si­fied brain research begun years ago at the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health is just now begin­ning to pro­duce data that sci­en­tists hope will advance efforts to pre­vent mem­o­ry loss, but they wor­ry that flat fed­er­al fund­ing since 2003 may com­pro­mise the dri­ve for solu­tions.

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

Brain Exercise and Brain Health FAQs

Below you have a quick “email inter­view” we had yes­ter­day with a jour­nal­ist, it may help you nav­i­gate through this emerg­ing field. (if you want some brain exer­cise right now, you can check our Top 50 Brain Teasers).

1. Why is it so important to exercise our brains?

Our brains are com­posed of dif­fer­ent areas and func­tions, and we can strength­en them through men­tal exer­cise- or they get atro­phied for lack of prac­tice. The ben­e­fits are both short-term (improved con­cen­tra­tion and mem­o­ry, sus­tained men­tal clar­i­ty under stress­ful sit­u­a­tions…), and long-term (cre­ation of a “brain reserve” that help pro­tect us against poten­tial prob­lems such as Alzheimer’s).

2. What are 1 or 2 things that are guaranteed “brain drains”?

- high-lev­els of anx­i­ety and stress, that are guar­an­teed to dis­tract us from our main goals and waste our lim­it­ed men­tal ener­gies.

- a very repet­i­tive and rou­tine-dri­ven life, lack­ing in nov­el­ty and stim­u­la­tion. We have brains to be able to learn and to adapt to new envi­ron­ments

The trick there­fore, is to take on new chal­lenges that are not way too difficult/ impos­si­ble, and learn how to man­age stress to pre­vent anx­i­ety from kick­ing-in.

3. What are three easy and quick mental exercises that everyone should be doing daily?

- For stress man­age­ment: a 5-minute visu­al­iza­tion, com­bin­ing deep and reg­u­lar breath­ings with see­ing in our mind’s eye beau­ti­ful land­scapes and/ or remem­ber­ing times in our past when we have been suc­cess­ful at a tough task

- For short-term mem­o­ry: try a series sub­tract­ing 7 from 200 (200 193 186 179…), or a series involv­ing mul­ti­pli­ca­tion (2,3 4,6 6,9 8,12…) or expo­nen­tial series (2 4 8 16 32 64…) the goal is not to be a math genius, sim­ply to train and improve our short-term mem­o­ry. Anoth­er way is to try and remem­ber our friends tele­phone num­bers.

- In gen­er­al: try some­thing dif­fer­ent every day, no mat­ter how lit­tle. Take a dif­fer­ent route to work. Talk to a dif­fer­ent col­league. Ask an unex­pect­ed ques­tion. Approach every day as a liv­ing exper­i­ment, a learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty.

4. Are crossword puzzles and sudoku really as great for exercising our brain as they are reported to be? Why? And what about activities like knitting?

Use it or lose it” may be mis­lead­ing if Read the rest of this entry »

MindFit Corporate and Freeze-Framer for Memory and Brain Fitness

Cog­ni­tive train­ing and stress man­age­ment, Mind­Fit and Freeze-Framer (or emWave): two com­ple­men­tary sides of Brain Fit­ness.

Research shows that adults can and should take care of their brains, both for short-term and long-term ben­e­fits. Through brain exer­cise we can improve our over­all cog­ni­tive func­tion right now—making quick deci­sions, stay­ing calm and focused under pres­sure, and mul­ti­task­ing effec­tive­ly. Over time, we may not reduce our brain age, but we can build up a cog­ni­tive reserve to buffer against age-relat­ed cog­ni­tive decline or oth­er pro­gres­sive dis­eases. Short term and long term, we all want to lead pro­duc­tive, suc­cess­ful lives.

Any good brain fit­ness pro­gram must pro­vide you a vari­ety of new chal­lenges over time. While recre­ation­al activ­i­ties like bridge, sudoku, and cross­word puz­zles can work our brain, only a com­pre­hen­sive tool based in sci­en­tif­ic research, like Mind­Fit, can work your men­tal mus­cles sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly through a com­plete­ly indi­vid­u­al­ized train­ing reg­i­men for Read the rest of this entry »

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