Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Debunking 10 Cognitive Health and Fitness Myths

As part of the research behind the book The Sharp­Brains Guide for Brain Fit­ness we inter­viewed dozens of lead­ing cog­ni­tive health and fit­ness sci­en­tists and experts world­wide to learn about their research and thoughts, and have a num­ber of take-aways to report.

What Santiago Ramon y Cajal can we clear­ly say today that we couldn’t have said only 10 years ago? That what neu­ro­science pio­neer San­ti­a­go Ramon y Cajal claimed in the XX cen­tu­ry, “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculp­tor his own brain”, may well become real­i­ty in the XXI.

And trans­form Edu­ca­tion, Health, Train­ing, and Gam­ing in the process, since Read the rest of this entry »

Marian Diamond on the brain

Quotes from a great arti­cle, Pro­fes­sor, 81, proves brain stays young:

- In 1960, Dia­mond became the first female fac­ul­ty mem­ber in Cal’s sci­ence depart­ment, achiev­ing full pro­fes­sor­ship in 1974. She still teach­es anato­my with her 81st birth­day two weeks away.

- Dia­mond, a pro­fes­sor of anato­my at UC Berke­ley, deter­mined that the brain can stay young through stim­u­la­tion, which can be achieved through her five-point plan: diet, exer­cise, chal­lenge, new­ness and ten­der lov­ing care.

- Using her plan, how is she chal­lenged?

- “Every stu­dent who sits in that chair,” she said, point­ing across the desk in her fifth-floor office in the Life Sci­ences Build­ing on cam­pus. “They come in here ask­ing ques­tions, and you bet­ter have the answers.”

- What new­ness, then, is in her life?

- “I have grand­chil­dren,” she said. “What could be bet­ter, decid­ing new things for them, to stim­u­late their brains.”

- She has four chil­dren, four grand­chil­dren and a hus­band, Arnold Schei­del, who teach­es anato­my at UCLA. They see each oth­er on school week­ends,

- Dia­mond feels her own brain grow­ing.

Keep read­ing here.

Relat­ed resources

A pre­vi­ous post list­ing a num­ber of her essays: Mar­i­an Dia­mond and the Brain Rev­o­lu­tion

Her great book Mag­ic Trees of the Mind: How to Nur­ture Your Child’s Intel­li­gence, Cre­ativ­i­ty, and Healthy Emo­tions from Birth Through Ado­les­cence, by Berkeley’s Mar­i­an Dia­mond and Janet L. Hop­son.

Cognitive Fitness and Brain Improvement: 10 Debunked Myths

Over the last year we have inter­viewed a num­ber of lead­ing brain health and fit­ness sci­en­tists and prac­ti­tion­ers world­wide to learn about their research and thoughts, and have news to report.

What can we say today that we couldn’t have said only 10 years ago? That what neu­ro­science pio­neer San­ti­a­go Ramon ySantiago Ramon y Cajal Cajal claimed in the XX cen­tu­ry, “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculp­tor his own brain”, may well become real­i­ty in the XXI. And influ­ence Edu­ca­tion, Health, Train­ing, and Gam­ing in the process.

We have only scratched the sur­face of what sci­ence-based struc­tured cog­ni­tive (i.e., men­tal) exer­cise can do for brain health and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. We are now wit­ness­ing the birth of a new indus­try that cross­es tra­di­tion­al sec­tor bound­aries and that may help us under­stand, assess and train our brains, har­ness­ing the grow­ing research about neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis (the cre­ation of new neu­rons), neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty (the abil­i­ty of the brain to rewire itself through expe­ri­ence), cog­ni­tive train­ing and emo­tion­al reg­u­la­tion.

Let’s now debunk 10 myths, still too preva­lent, that may pre­vent us from see­ing the full poten­tial of this emerg­ing field:

Myth 1: It’s all in our genes.

Real­i­ty: A big com­po­nent of our life­long brain health and devel­op­ment depends on what we do with our brains. Our own actions, not only our genes, influ­ence our lives to a large extent. Genes pre­dis­pose us, not deter­mine our fates.

Indi­vid­u­als who lead men­tal­ly stim­u­lat­ing lives, through edu­ca­tion, occu­pa­tion and leisure activ­i­ties, have reduced risk of devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s. 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 Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty.

Myth 2: The field of Cognitive/ Brain Fit­ness is too new to be cred­i­ble.

Real­i­ty: The field rests on sol­id foun­da­tions dat­ing back more decades — what is new is the num­ber and range of tools that are now start­ing to be avail­able for healthy indi­vid­u­als.

Rig­or­ous and tar­get­ed cog­ni­tive train­ing has been used in clin­i­cal prac­tice for many years. Exer­cis­ing our brains sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly is as impor­tant as exer­cis­ing our bod­ies.” — Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg, neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist, Frontal Lobes fMRIclin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­o­gy at New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine, and dis­ci­ple of Alexan­der Luria.

Today, thanks to fMRI and oth­er neu­roimag­ing tech­niques, we are start­ing to under­stand the impact our actions can have on spe­cif­ic parts of the brain.” — Dr. Judith Beck, Direc­tor of the Beck Insti­tute for Cog­ni­tive Ther­a­py and Research.

Myth 3: Med­ica­tion is and will remain the only evi­dence-based inter­ven­tion for a num­ber of brain-relat­ed prob­lems.

Real­i­ty: Cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams are start­ing to Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Teasers and Games for the Brain: Test your Brain

Frontal LobesIt is always good to stim­u­late our minds and to learn a bit about how our brains work. Here you have a selec­tion of the 50 Brain Teasers that peo­ple have enjoyed the most in our blog and speak­ing engage­ments.

Fun exper­i­ments on how our brains work

1. Do you think you know the col­ors?: try the Stroop Test.

2. Can you count?: Bas­ket­ball atten­tion exper­i­ment (Inter­ac­tive).

3. Who is this?: A very impor­tant lit­tle guy (Inter­ac­tive).

4. How is this pos­si­ble?.

5. Take the Sens­es Chal­lenge (Inter­ac­tive).

6. Are there more brain con­nec­tions or leaves in the Ama­zon?.

Atten­tionTwo In One Task

7. How are your divid­ed atten­tion skills? check out “Inside and Out­side” (Inter­ac­tive, from Mind­Fit).

8. Can you walk and chew gum at the same time? try “Two in One” (Inter­ac­tive, from Mind­Fit)

9. Count the Fs in this sen­tence.

10. What do you see? can you alter­nate between 2 views?.

Mem­o­ryPicasso Task

11. Easy one…draw the face of a pen­ny, please. Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Wellness: Train Your Brain to Be Happier

I am delight­ed to par­tic­i­pate in LifeTwo’s “How to be Hap­pi­er” week with this post. Hap­pi­ness is still large­ly unchar­tered ter­ri­to­ry for neu­ro­science. It sounds like a hid­den, elu­sive El Dora­do. How­ev­er, once one fol­lows pos­i­tive psy­chol­o­gy research and Harvard’s Dr. Ben-Shahar’s advice, “The ques­tion should not be whether you are hap­py but what you can do to become hap­pi­er”, the hap­pi­ness quest starts to become more tan­gi­ble and work­able accord­ing to lat­est neu­ro­science research.

We are now going to explore the four key con­cepts of Dr. Ben-Shahar’s state­ment — 1) “you”, 2) “can”, 3) “do”, and 4) “hap­pi­er” — from a neu­ropsy­cho­log­i­cal per­spec­tive.

1) Who is “you”? Accord­ing to lat­est sci­en­tif­ic under­stand­ing, what we expe­ri­ence as “mind”, our Frontal Lobesaware­ness, emerges from the phys­i­cal brain. So, if we want to refine our minds, we bet­ter start by under­stand­ing and train­ing our brains. A very impor­tant real­i­ty to appre­ci­ate: each brain is unique, since it reflects our unique life­time expe­ri­ences. Sci­en­tists have already shown how even adult brains retain a sig­nif­i­cant abil­i­ty to con­tin­u­al­ly gen­er­ate new neu­rons and lit­er­al­ly rewire them­selves. So, each of us is unique, with our own aspi­ra­tions, emo­tion­al pref­er­ences, capac­i­ties, and each of us in con­tin­u­al­ly in flux. A pow­er­ful con­cept to remind our­selves: “you” can become hap­pi­er means that “you” are the only per­son who can take action and eval­u­ate what works for “you”. And “you” means the mind that emerges from your own, very per­son­al, unique, and con­stant­ly evolv­ing, brain. Which only “you” can train.

2) Why the use of “can”? Well, this reminds me a great quote by Span­ish neu­ro­sci­en­tist San­ti­a­go Ramon y Cajal, who said that “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculp­tor of his own brain”. Each of us has immense poten­tial. How­ev­er, in the same way that Michaelangelo’s David didn’t spon­ta­neous­ly appear out-of-the-blue one day, becom­ing hap­pi­er requires atten­tion, inten­tion, and actu­al prac­tice.

Atten­tion: Every sec­ond, you choose what to pay atten­tion to. You can focus on the neg­a­tive and there­by train your brain to focus on the neg­a­tive. You can Read the rest of this entry »

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