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Cognitive and Emotional Development Through Play

We some­times neglect to men­tion a very basic yet pow­er­ful method of cog­ni­tive and emo­tion­al devel­op­ment, for chil­dren and adults alike: Play.

Dr. David Elkind, author of The Pow­er of Play: Learn­ing That Comes Nat­u­ral­ly, dis­cuss­es the need to build a more “play­ful cul­ture” in this great arti­cle The Power of Play And Learningbrought to you thanks to our col­lab­o­ra­tion with Greater Good Mag­a­zine.

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Can We Play?

– By Dr. David Elkind

Play is rapid­ly dis­ap­pear­ing from our homes, our schools, and our neigh­bor­hoods. Over the last two decades alone, chil­dren have lost eight hours of free, unstruc­tured, and spon­ta­neous play a week. More than 30,000 schools in the Unit­ed States have elim­i­nat­ed recess to make more time for aca­d­e­mics. From 1997 to 2003, children’s time spent out­doors fell 50 per­cent, accord­ing to a study by San­dra Hof­ferth at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land. Hof­ferth has also found that the amount of time chil­dren spend in orga­nized sports has dou­bled, and the num­ber of min­utes chil­dren devote each week to pas­sive leisure, not includ­ing watch­ing tele­vi­sion, has increased from 30 min­utes to more than three hours. It is no sur­prise, then, that child­hood obe­si­ty is now con­sid­ered an epi­dem­ic.

But the prob­lem goes well beyond obe­si­ty. Decades of research has shown that play is cru­cial to phys­i­cal, intel­lec­tu­al, and social-emo­tion­al devel­op­ment at all ages. This is espe­cial­ly true of the purest form of play: the unstruc­tured, self-moti­vat­ed, imag­i­na­tive, inde­pen­dent kind, where chil­dren ini­ti­ate their own games and even invent their own rules.

Read the rest of this entry »

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)

10 Highlights from the 2007 Aspen Health Forum

AspenThe Aspen Health Forum gath­ered an impres­sive group of around 250 peo­ple to dis­cuss the most press­ing issues in Health and Med­ical Sci­ence (check out the Pro­gram and the Speak­ers bios), on Octo­ber 3–6th. It was the first con­fer­ence, by the way, where I have heard a speak­er say: “I resus­ci­tat­ed a woman yes­ter­day”.

Key high­lights and trends:

1- Glob­al health prob­lems require the atten­tion of the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty. Richard Klaus­ner encour­aged the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty to focus on Glob­al Prob­lems: mater­nal mor­tal­i­ty rates, HIV/ AIDS, nutri­tion, can­cer, clean water.  Bill Frist, for­mer Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader, added to that list the increas­ing epi­dem­ic risks of glob­al zoot­ic dis­eases (trans­mit­ted between humans and ani­mals), sup­port­ed by 2 inter­est­ing data points: at any one moment, there are 500,000 peo­ple fly­ing world­wide; in a year, air­lines trans­port the equiv­a­lent of 2 bil­lion pas­sen­gers.

2- “Let’s get real…Ideology kills”. Mary Robin­son, for­mer Pres­i­dent of Ire­land, on what it takes to stop HIV/ AIDS: “I am from Ire­land, a Catholic coun­try. And I am Catholic. But I can see how ide­ol­o­gy kills..we need more empa­thy with real­i­ty, and to work with local women in those coun­tries who need things like female con­doms.” She was implic­it­ly crit­i­ciz­ing the large bud­get devot­ed to unre­al­is­tic absti­nence pro­grams. This ses­sion includ­ed a fas­ci­nat­ing exchange where Bill Frist rose from the audi­ence to defend the role of US aid, explain­ing how 60% of retro­vi­ral drugs in African coun­tries have been fund­ed by the Amer­i­can tax­pay­er, high­light­ing Pres­i­dent Bush’s courage to make HIV/AIDS a top agen­da item in many devel­op­ing coun­tries, and crit­i­ciz­ing oth­er coun­tries for not doing enough. Which made Nobel Prize Lau­re­ate Peter Agre, also in the audi­ence, stand up and encour­age the US to real­ly step up to the plate and devote 1% of the GDP to aid, as a num­ber of Euro­pean coun­tries do, instead of 0.1%.

3- Where is the new “Sput­nik”?: Basic sci­ence is cru­cial for inno­va­tion and for eco­nom­ic growth, but it is often under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed. Sci­en­tists are not “nerds”, as some­times they are por­trayed in pop­u­lar cul­ture, but peo­ple with a deep curios­i­ty and dri­ve to solve a Big prob­lem. Many of the speak­ers had been inspired by the Sput­nik and the Apol­lo mis­sions to become sci­en­tists, at a time when the pro­fes­sion was con­sid­ered cool. Two Nobel Prize Lau­re­ates (Peter Agre, Michael Bish­op), talked about their lives and careers try­ing to demys­ti­fy what it takes to be a sci­en­tist and to win a Nobel Prize. Both are grate­ful to the tax­pay­ers dol­lars that fund­ed their research, and insist we must do a bet­ter job at explain­ing the Sputniksci­en­tif­ic process to soci­ety at large. Both are proud of hav­ing attend­ed small lib­er­al arts col­leges, and hav­ing evolved from there, fueled by their great curios­i­ty and unpre­dictable, serendip­i­tous paths, into launch­ing new sci­en­tif­ic and med­ical fields.  Bish­op list­ed a num­ber of times where he made deci­sions that were con­sid­ered “career sui­cide” by men­tors and col­leagues, and men­tioned “I was con­fused” around 15 times in 15 minutes…down to earth and inspir­ing.

4- We need a true Health Care Cul­ture: Mark Ganz sum­ma­rized it best by explain­ing how his health provider group improved care when they rede­fined them­selves from “we are 7,000 employ­ees” to “we are a 3 mil­lion strong com­mu­ni­ty”, mov­ing from Read the rest of this entry »

Feed Your Brain with Fun Neuroscience

Thinking menTo all new read­ers-Wel­come!. The Digg Tsuna­mi has brought over 40,000 vis­i­tors so far…and it con­tin­ues. We need to thank Andrey for his excel­lent tech­ni­cal work in help­ing us ride such a beau­ti­ful wave.

Let me give you an overview of what you can find in our blog, bridg­ing neu­ro­science research and brain health/ “brain exer­cise” prac­tice. First, here you have a few of my favorite quotes from the 10 inter­views we have done with neu­ro­science and psy­chol­o­gy experts in cog­ni­tive and emo­tion­al train­ing in our Neu­ro­science Inter­view Series. You can read the in-depth inter­view notes for each if you want to stim­u­late those neu­rons…

  • Learn­ing is phys­i­cal. Learn­ing means the mod­i­fi­ca­tion, growth, and prun­ing of our neu­rons, con­nec­tions called synaps­es and neu­ronal net­works, through experience…we are cul­ti­vat­ing our own neu­ronal net­works.- Dr. James Zull, Pro­fes­sor of Biol­o­gy and Bio­chem­istry at Case West­ern Uni­ver­si­ty: Read Inter­view Notes
  • Exer­cis­ing our brains sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly ways is as impor­tant as exer­cis­ing our bod­ies. In my expe­ri­ence, “Use it or lose it should real­ly be “Use it and get more of it.- Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg, neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist, clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­o­gy at New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine, and dis­ci­ple of the great neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist Alexan­der Luria: Read Inter­view Notes
  • Indi­vid­u­als who lead men­tal­ly stim­u­lat­ing lives, through edu­ca­tion, occu­pa­tion and leisure activ­i­ties, have reduced risk of devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s symp­toms. Stud­ies sug­gest that they have 35–40% less risk of man­i­fest­ing the dis­ease - Dr. Yaakov Stern, Divi­sion Leader of the Cog­ni­tive Neu­ro­science Divi­sion of the Sergievsky Cen­ter at the Col­lege of Physi­cians and Sur­geons of Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, New York: Read Inter­view Notes

Vitruvian ManWhat research has shown is that Read the rest of this entry »

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