Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Neuroplasticity and “real” Brain Games: The opportunity at hand

-- An MRI image of the brain showing the structure of white matter. Credit 3D Slicer/Wikimedia Commons.

– An MRI image of the brain show­ing the struc­ture of white mat­ter. Cred­it 3D Slicer/Wikimedia Com­mons.

In prepa­ra­tion for the new sea­son of Nation­al Geo­graph­ic’s Brain Games, their pro­duc­ers asked me to par­tic­i­pate in a vir­tu­al round­table around this thought-pro­vok­ing ques­tion:

Do you think indi­vid­u­als can train their brain to respond in a par­tic­u­lar way to cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, or do you think our brain’s innate “star­tle response” is too hard­wired to alter?

My short answer: Yes, we can train our brains.

My long answer: Not only we can, but we SHOULD train our brains to respond in par­tic­u­lar ways to cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. That’s why we have a human brain to begin with…Keep read­ing arti­cle The Real Brain Game: Har­ness­ing Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty to Upgrade Our Men­tal Equip­ment (The Cre­ativ­i­ty Post)

What makes your brain happy and why you should do the opposite

(Edi­tor’s Note: This is an excerpt from David DiS­alvo’s new book What makes  your brain hap­py and why you should do the oppo­site.)

Tak­ing a posi­tion in any argument—large or small—is slip­pery busi­ness for our brains. We can have every inten­tion of hon­est­ly pur­su­ing an answer, yet still fool our­selves into think­ing our method is objec­tive when it is, in fact, any­thing but. Cog­ni­tive sci­ence has helped deci­pher this enig­ma with research on the the­o­ret­i­cal men­tal struc­tures our brains use to orga­nize infor­ma­tion, called schema­ta. Read the rest of this entry »

New resource: Brain Fitness for All

In light of the cur­rent BBC-led con­tro­ver­sy on whether “brain train­ing” works, we believe it is crit­i­cal to spend some time dis­cussing the basics of brain func­tion­ing and brain-healthy lifestyles, what “brain train­ing” is and isn’t (to be accu­rate, the BBC did­n’t test Brain Train­ing as a cat­e­go­ry, only the new games that their researchers chose to build from scratch and des­ig­nate as “brain train­ing” ignor­ing pre­vi­ous research), what method­olo­gies for brain train­ing are in fact backed up by sci­ence (med­i­ta­tion, cog­ni­tive ther­a­py, biofeed­back, com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive train­ing) as valu­able for a vari­ety of pop­u­la­tions and goals, and how con­sumers and pro­fes­sion­als can learn to nav­i­gate the grow­ing array of claims. Sharp­Brains wants to con­tribute to a healthy con­ver­sa­tion by shar­ing online a new online resource based on the con­tent from the book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness (May 2009, $19.95), by Alvaro Fer­nan­dez and Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg.

The new resource is avail­able via the Nav­i­ga­tion Bar as “HOW-TO GUIDE: all about brain fit­ness”, and below are its main sec­tions. You can engage in the con­ver­sa­tion in this blog, via Face­book, Twit­ter, and LinkedIn. Enjoy!


Debunking 10 Brain Myths

You are a life­long learn­er. You may also be a care­giv­er, or a pro­fes­sion­al in fields such as health­care, edu­ca­tion, or psy­chol­o­gy. The goal of this resource is to help you make informed deci­sions about brain health and cog­ni­tive fit­ness, based on lat­est sci­en­tif­ic find­ings. First of all, let’s debunk some com­mon myths. Keep read­ing.


1. Brain Fitness Fundamentals

In order to make informed deci­sions about brain health and brain train­ing, you need to first under­stand the under­ly­ing orga­ni­za­tion of the human brain and how it evolves across our lifes­pan. For exam­ple, the brain is com­posed of a num­ber of spe­cial­ized regions serv­ing dis­tinct func­tions, our life and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty depend on a vari­ety of brain func­tions, not just one, and there is noth­ing inher­ent­ly fixed in the tra­jec­to­ry of how brain func­tions evolve as we age. Keep read­ing.


2. The 4 Pillars of Brain Maintenance

Thanks to life­long neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty and neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis, our lifestyles and actions play a mean­ing­ful role in how our brains phys­i­cal­ly change. Now, there is no “gen­er­al solu­tion” or “mag­ic pill” for brain main­te­nance. A mul­ti-pronged approach cen­tered on nutri­tion, stress man­age­ment, and both phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise is rec­om­mend­ed for bet­ter brain health. Keep read­ing.


3. Brain Training vs. Mental Activity

In this sec­tion we focus on men­tal exer­cise – which we will call brain train­ing, to dis­tin­guish it from men­tal activ­i­ty in gen­er­al. Brain train­ing goes beyond men­tal activ­i­ty. It is the struc­tured use of cog­ni­tive exer­cis­es or tech­niques aimed at improv­ing spe­cif­ic brain func­tions, and can be deliv­ered in a num­ber of ways: med­i­ta­tion, cog­ni­tive ther­a­py, cog­ni­tive train­ing, biofeed­back. Keep read­ing.


4. Making Informed Brain Training Decisions

The state of the research does not allow for strong “pre­scrip­tions” of spe­cif­ic prod­ucts: we want to offer you the best infor­ma­tion avail­able today so that you can make bet­ter informed deci­sions. Dif­fer­ent peo­ple face dif­fer­ent cog­ni­tive demands, and have dif­fer­ent start­ing points, so there is no gen­er­al solu­tion for every­one and every­thing. As in phys­i­cal fit­ness, informed con­sumers and pro­fes­sion­als must ask them­selves a num­ber of ques­tions. Keep read­ing.


5. Brain Fitness through the Lifespan

The same way there are many rea­sons to exer­cise our bod­ies (run in a marathon, stay in shape, lose weight, become an Olympian, have strong abdom­i­nal mus­cles, etc.), there are many rea­sons to exer­cise our brains. In this chap­ter, we review a few cur­rent and future appli­ca­tions of brain train­ing through the lifes­pan, includ­ing edu­ca­tion, cor­po­rate well­ness, retire­ment com­mu­ni­ties, clin­i­cal con­di­tions, and more. Keep read­ing.


6. Ready for the Future?

In this sec­tion our aim is to describe the trends we think are impor­tant in order to help you be ready for the future. Informed and proac­tive adults will look for solu­tions to inte­grate brain fit­ness to their every­day activ­i­ties. Pro­fes­sion­als will iden­ti­fy oppor­tu­ni­ties to offer new ser­vices and pro­grams. We hope this chap­ter will give you ideas as to how to intro­duce brain fit­ness in your per­son­al life and/or your work­place. Keep read­ing.


7. Opening the Debate

Our ulti­mate goal is to stim­u­late dis­cus­sion. In this final sec­tion we want to pro­vide you, proud brain own­ers and ambas­sadors of brain fit­ness, with addi­tion­al food for though. Pro­cess­ing new infor­ma­tion is a stim­u­lat­ing intel­lec­tu­al exer­cise, and dis­cussing insights and open ques­tions with a group of peo­ple can be equal­ly if not more stim­u­lat­ing. Keep read­ing.

Manage Stress for Your Brain Health

We just received this very insight­ful essay on stress man­age­ment and brain health writ­ten by Lan­don, a home­school­er and par­tic­i­pant in Susan Hill’s writ­ing work­shop. Susan asked Meditation School Studentsher stu­dents to write about impli­ca­tions of recent brain research.

Enjoy the arti­cle and the long week­end (at least here in the US) and Relax…


Stress Man­age­ment for Your Brain Health

– By Lan­don N

Thou­sands and thou­sands of web-like neu­rons linked togeth­er form a spongy mass inside a skull. This mass, called the brain, is what con­trols the body and the thoughts that run threw it have a notable effect on the heath of an indi­vid­ual. In addi­tion to thoughts, fear, stress, and emo­tions also have a strong effect on health. So then, health depends on more than just eat­ing right and exer­cis­ing; it depends on our men­tal state as well.

Read the rest of this entry »

Darwin’s adult neuroplasticity

Charles Darwin 1880Charles Dar­win (1809–1882)‘s auto­bi­og­ra­phy (full text free online) includes some very insight­ful refec­tions on the evo­lu­tion of his own mind dur­ing his mid­dle-age, show­cas­ing the pow­er of the brain to rewire itself through expe­ri­ence (neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty) dur­ing our whole life­times-not just when we are youngest.

He wrote these paragraphs at the age of 72 (I have bold­ed some key sen­tences for empha­sis, the whole text makes great read­ing):

I have said that in one respect my mind has changed dur­ing the last twen­ty or thir­ty years. Up to the age of thir­ty, or beyond it, poet­ry of many kinds, such as the works of Mil­ton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shel­ley, gave me great plea­sure, and even as a school­boy I took intense delight in Shake­speare, espe­cial­ly in the his­tor­i­cal plays. I have also said that for­mer­ly pic­tures gave me con­sid­er­able, and music very great delight. But now for many years I can­not endure to read a line of poet­ry: I have tried late­ly to read Shake­speare, and found it so intol­er­a­bly dull that it nau­se­at­ed me. I have also almost lost my taste for pic­tures or music. Music gen­er­al­ly sets me think­ing too ener­get­i­cal­ly on what I have been at work on, instead of giv­ing me plea­sure. I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquis­ite delight which it for­mer­ly did. On the oth­er hand, nov­els which are works of the imag­i­na­tion, though not of a very high order, have been for years a won­der­ful relief and plea­sure to me, and I often bless all nov­el­ists. A sur­pris­ing num­ber have been read aloud to me, and I like all if mod­er­ate­ly good, and if they do not end unhap­pi­ly– against which a law ought to be passed. A nov­el, accord­ing to my taste, does not come into the first class unless it con­tains some per­son whom one can thor­ough­ly love, and if a pret­ty woman all the bet­ter.

This curi­ous and lam­en­ta­ble loss of the high­er aes­thet­ic tastes is all the odd­er, as books on his­to­ry, biogra­phies, and trav­els (inde­pen­dent­ly of any sci­en­tif­ic facts which they may con­tain), and essays on all sorts of sub­jects inter­est me as much as ever they did. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grind­ing gen­er­al laws out of large col­lec­tions of facts, but why this should have caused the atro­phy of that part of the brain alone, on which the high­er tastes depend, I can­not con­ceive. A man with 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,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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