Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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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