Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Fact: Lifelong neuroplasticity means our 7.5 billion brains can “sculpt” themselves

Much ongoing brain health and brain enhancement innovation is enabled by the core fact—called neuroplasticity–that the human brain continually changes itself through experience. Neuroplasticity–or brain plasticity– refers to the brain’s ability to rewire itself based on experience by generating new neurons and by forming new connections between neurons, among other factors. It was believed for a long time that, after a certain age, the brain became “fixed.” Now we know that the brain never stops changing, and that’s why there’s so much interest and hope around ways to harness that neuroplasticity to lead better lives, to enhance our brains, to delay brain health decline.

What follows from this fact is that we can strengthen specific circuits of the brain (through education, our jobs and lifestyles, and also through mental exercisesmeditation and neurostimulation), in order to learn faster, better and become more resilient.

–> Keep reading the article 5 Facts You Need To Know To Understand, Navigate And Enjoy The Digital Brain Health Revolution over at The Huffington Post.

Witnessing an explosion of consumer-facing neurotechnologies to (potentially) harness lifelong neuroplasticity

Last week I shared some key scientific, technological and investment trends revolutionizing Brain Health, based on my participation at the 2016 SharpBrains Virtual Summit, and promised a second article more focused on the technology side of things.

Here it is 🙂

Just a few weeks after the SharpBrains Summit I also attended CES 2017. While I enjoyed the myriad emerging technologies –autonomous vehicles, robotics, drones, augmented and virtual reality headsets, voice activated everything– I was mostly struck by a firm named Halo Neuroscience. They have a fascinating wearable product, Halo Sport, claiming to accelerate gains in strength, explosiveness, endurance, and muscle memory, improving the brain’s response to athletic training. It uses tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation), essentially priming movement-related circuits of the brain to become more receptive to stimuli, helping the brain wire in the practice for improved future response.

The cutting edge of applied neuroplasticity

Both conferences allowed me to see the cutting edge of Read the rest of this entry »

Quick brain teasers to train your attention and working memory

brain-teasers

Here you have a few fun mental exercises to train your attention and working memory (the capacity to hold multiple pieces of information in the mind, and to use them real-time). Given them a try today and over the weekend…they are not as easy as they may sound!

  1. Say the days of the week backwards, then in alphabetical order. If you speak another language, try doing the same in that language.
  2. Say the months of the year in alphabetical order. Then, for extra cognitive challenge, try doing so backwards, in reverse alphabetical order.
  3. Find the sum of your date of birth, mm/dd/yyyy. Want more quick brain teasers? Do the same with friends’ and relatives’ date of birth.
  4. Quick, name two objects for every letter in your complete name. Work up to five objects, trying to use different items each time.
  5. Wherever you are, look around and within two minutes, try to find 5 green things that will fit in your pocket, and 5 red objects that are too big to fit.

Read the rest of this entry »

Training Young Brains to Behave

Great article in the New York Times titled Training Young Brains to Behave. A couple of quotes:

– “But just as biology shapes behavior, so behavior can accelerate biology. And a small group of educational and cognitive scientists now say that mental exercises of a certain kind can teach children to become more self-possessed at earlier ages, reducing stress levels at home and improving their experience in school. Researchers can test this ability, which they call executive function, and they say it is more strongly associated with school success than I.Q.”

– “We know that the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until the 20s, and some people will ask, Read the rest of this entry »

Physical Exercise and Brain Health

Healthy Seniors

What is the connection between physical and mental exercise? Do they have additive effects on brain health? Are they redundant?

Let’s start by reviewing what we know about the effects of physical exercise on the brain.

The effect of physical exercise on cognitive performance

Early studies compared groups of people who exercised to groups of people who did not exercise much. Results showed that people who exercised usually had better performance in a range of cognitive tasks compared to non-exercisers.

Laurin and colleagues (2001) even suggested that moderate and high levels of physical activity were associated with lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

The problem with these studies is that the exercisers and the non-exercisers may differ on other factors than just exercise. The advantage that exerciser show may not come from exercising but from other factors such as more resources, better brain health to start with, better diet, etc.

The solution to this problem is to randomly assigned people to either an aerobic training group or a control group. If the exerciser group and the non-exerciser group are very similar to start with and if the exerciser group shows less decline or better performance over time than the non-exerciser group, then one can conclude that physical exercise is beneficial for brain health.

In 2003, Colcombe and Kramer, analyzed the results of 18 scientific studies published between 2000 and 2001 that were conducted in the way described above.

The results of this meta-analysis clearly showed that fitness training increases cognitive performance in healthy adults between the ages of 55 and 80.

Another meta-analysis published in 2004 by Heyn and colleagues shows similar beneficial effects of fitness training on people over 65 years old who had cognitive impairment or dementia.

What is the effect of fitness training on the brain itself?

Research with animals has shown that in mice, increased aerobic fitness (running) can increase the number of new cells formed in the hippocampus (the hippocampus is crucial for learning and memory). Increased exercise also has a beneficial effect on mice’s vascular system.

Only one study has used brain imaging to look at the effect of fitness on the human brain. In 2006, Colcombe and colleagues randomly assigned 59 older adults to either a cardiovascular exercise group, or a nonaerobic exercise control group (stretching and toning exercise). Participants exercised 3h per week for 6 months. Colcombe et al. scanned the participants’ brains before and after the training period.

After 6 months, the brain volume of the aerobic exercising group increased in several areas compared to the other group. Volume increase occurred principally in frontal and temporal areas of the brain involved in executive control and memory processes. The authors do not know what underlying cellular changes might have caused these volume changes. However they suspect, based on animal research, that volume changes may be due to an increased number of blood vessels and an increased number of connections between neurons.

How does physical exercise compare to mental exercise?

Very few studies have tried to compare the effect of physical exercise and mental exercise on cognitive performance.brain books

When looking at each domain of research one notices the following differences:

– The effects of cognitive or mental exercise on performance seem to be very task specific, that is trained tasks benefit from training but the benefits do not transfer very well to tasks in which one was not trained.

– The effects of physical exercise on performance seem broader. However they do not generalize to all tasks. They benefit mostly tasks that involve executive-control components (that is, tasks that require planning, working memory, multitasking, resistance to distraction).

To my knowledge only one study tried to directly compare cognitive and fitness training:

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