Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Mindfulness and Meditation in Schools: Mindful Kids, Peaceful Schools

Mindful Kids, Peaceful Schools

With eyes closed and deep breaths, students are learning a new method to reduce anxiety, conflict, and attention disorders. But don’t call it meditation.

— By Jill Suttie

At Toluca Lake elementary school in Los Angeles, a cyclone fence encloses the asphalt blacktop, which is teeming with kids. It’s recess time and the kids, who are mostly mindfulness exercises for teenagersLatino, are playing tag, yelling, throwing balls, and jumping rope. When the bell rings, they reluctantly stop and head back to their classrooms except for Daniel Murphy’s second grade class.

Murphy’s students file into the school auditorium, each carrying a round blue pillow decorated with white stars. They enter giggling and chatting, but soon they are seated in a circle on their cushions, eyes closed, quiet and concentrating. Two teachers give the children instructions on how to pay attention to their breathing, telling them to notice the rise and fall of their bellies and chests, the passage of air in and out of their noses. Though the room is chilly the heating system broke down earlier that day the children appear comfortable, many with Read the rest of this entry »

Every man can, if he so desires, sculpt his own brain

Santiago Ramon y CajalA Spanish friend and neuroscientist just reminded me of a great quote by Santiago Ramon y Cajal (1852-1934): “todo hombre puede ser, si se lo propone, escultor de su propio cerebro“.

Which means: “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculptor his own brain“.

Which really means: “Each of us can literally refine the structure and function of our brains, the same way we can do so with the rest of our body muscles” (my 2 cents…).

Our daily thoughts and actions, learnings, meditation, cognitive therapy, the growing number of software-based programs, and more, are “sculpting” tools…no more no less than tools. Good for some goals and contexts, like improving concentration and memory, becoming “sharper”, helping protect our minds from decline, or manage stress better.

I just bought Cajal’s autobiography, titled Recollections of My Life (thanks, Mind Hacks). Will be writing about it in a month or so-I have too many books on the table now, and only one brain.

If you want to read some good neuroscience blog posts, you can find a nice collection in the latest edition of Encephalon, hosted by Dr Deborah Serani.

For general science ones, try Tangled Bank. For education, enjoy The Education Carnival.

Finally, I will be hosting the next edition of Carnival of the Capitalists (I don’t really love the name…but it is the oldest and best blog carnival for business and economics). If you have some good posts, please submit them here.

For some additional thoughts on sculpting brains, intelligence, and becoming smarter, you can check this post.

Cognitive training research: MindFit, Lumosity, Posit Science, Cogmed

The field of computer-based cognitive training (part of what we call “Brain Fitness”) is starting to get traction in the media and becoming an emerging industry, and we are happy to see how a growing number of researchers and science-based companies are leading studies that will allow to better measure results and refine the brain exercise software available.

Published new research

  • Computerized working memory training after stroke-A pilot study. A published study on how Cogmed working memory training may help stroke patients. See the reference at Cogmed Research page (and full article here)
  • The Journals of Gerontology published a series of related papers in their June issue, including this by Karlene Ball, Jerri D. Edwards, and Lesley A. Ross on The Impact of Speed of Processing Training on Cognitive and Everyday Functions, J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2007 62: 19-31.  Abstract: “We combined data from six studies, all using the same speed of processing training program, to examine the mechanisms of training gain and the impact of training on cognitive and everyday abilities of older adults. Results indicated that training produces immediate improvements across all subtests of the Useful Field of View test, particularly for older adults with initial speed of processing deficits. Age and education had little to no impact on training gain. Participants maintained benefits of training for at least 2 years, which translated to improvements in everyday abilities, including efficient performance of instrumental activities of daily living and safer driving performance.”

Ongoing/ starting research

The new Mental Game: sport psychology, coaches, get ready!

One of the many Sharp Brains around, who is up to date of everything related to brain health and fitness (yes, Jeanne, that’s you! thanks for being such a great bureau chief!) has sent us a very interesting press note on how brain fitness and training can be applied in the sports performance world. I haven’t been able to track down the research behind the specific programs mentioned in the article, but the theoretical rationale makes sense based on similar programs we are familiar with: you can see below a summary of our interview with Prof. Daniel Gopher, scientific mind behind computer-based cognitive simulations for military pilots and for basketball players.

The note Sports Vision Training Takes Athletes to New Frontiers explains how

  • “Specialty sports vision facilities are helping athletes train skills that many believed were “untrainable”; skills like anticipation, field vision, timing, sport intelligence, game tempo, reaction speed, focus and concentration.”
  • “What has everyone all worked up is the knowledge that they can actually train athletic skills that many believed were “untrainable.” We’re talking about intangibles like anticipation, field vision, timing, sport intelligence, game tempo, reaction speed, focus and concentration. “One of the worst mistakes an athlete can make is to believe that you’re either born with or without these kinds of skills, and that they’re consequently not trainable, says Brian Stammer, editor of SportsVision Magazine. “If you want to be the best athlete you can be, you must do exercises to condition and sharpen your sensory system, including visual, auditory and brain-processing speed.
  • This is the link to the magazine they mention: SportsVision Magazine

And here is the summary of my (AF) interview with Prof. Daniel Gopher (DG) on Cognitive Simulations and cognitive training:

  • “AF: …Can you summarize your research findings across all these examples and fields, and how you see the field evolving?
  • DG: In short, I’d summarize by saying that
  • Cognitive performance can be substantially improved with proper training. Read the rest of this entry »

Brain training to live long and strong

If you want to live long and strong, you’ve got to do more than work out your body; you’ve got to exercise your brain, insists Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, clinical professor of neurology at New York University School of Medicine. While we’ve heard for years that mental stimulation can stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s, Dr. Goldberg says scientists now know exactly how to keep our brains from turning to mush – by stimulating the growth of new neurons and interconnections between them that boost brain efficiency. If you don’t use your brain in new and novel ways, your brain won’t be fit to use.

As the chief scientific adviser for SharpBrains.com, Dr. Goldberg’s site offers an array of brain teasers and exercises that improve brain function. But online tests are not all you can do. Just do something different and challenging. Getting out of your middle-aged comfort zone is the difference in a high quality of life when you’re older than none at all.

Keep reading more of the Florida Today interview with Dr. Goldberg at Next Up, A Gym for the Mind.

You can also read our more detailed (and probably more precise) interview with Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg on Brain Fitness and Cognitive Training.

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