Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Brain Fitness at New York Public Library

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to give a talk to one hundred or so staff members at New York Public Library. As you would expect, it was a very stimulating group, and one of the participants, Brigid Cahalan, just wrote a fun blog post on her impressions from the event:

Brain Fitness at New York Public Library:

– “After attending a recent staff training session offered by the library’s Office of Staff Development, I decided to return to a habit of my childhood–eating sardines.”
– key pillars for brain health …are… “1) A balanced diet; 2) Cardiovascular physical exercise; 3) Stress management; and 4) Brain exercise: Novelty, Variety, Challenge (as long as it doesn’t stress us out).”

Read full article: here.

Comment: A very interesting trend of observe – the growing role of public libraries in providing quality brain health information and even, why not, becoming community-based brain fitness destinations. After all, is it not mental stimulation of all sorts, incorporating Novelty, Variety, and Challenge, what they truly offer?

Towards a Healthy Living & Cognitive Health Agenda

Here you have the November edition of our monthly newsletter covering cognitive health and brain fitness topics. Please remember that you can subscribe to receive this Newsletter by email, simply by brain fitness and health newslettersubmitting your email at the top of this page.

Thank you for your interest, attention and participation in our SharpBrains community. As always, we appreciate your comments and suggestions.

Summit of the Global Agenda

How can we persuade business leaders, policy-makers and researchers of the urgency to develop and promote an integrated “Healthy Living” agenda focused on maintaining lifelong physical and cognitive health, vs. the usual mindset focused on dealing with specific diseases and problems once they arise?

In The Future of the Aging Society: Burden or Human Capital?, I summarize some of the key themes discussed at the World Economic Forum event in Dubai on November 7-9th. The world is aging – and in healthier ways. But our healthcare and retirement systems are on track to go bankrupt – their premises are outdated. The current disease-based research agenda compounds the problem. Solutions? 1) Promote Healthy Lifestyles that help Maintain Physical and Cognitive Functional Abilities, 2) Redesign Environments to Foster Health, Engagement and Financial Security, 3) Develop an Integrated Healthy Living & Aging Research Agenda. Specifically, we could work with the UN and Global 2000 companies to move forward a new agenda.

Planet Earth 2.0: A New Operating System: Imagine seeing a top sheik in Dubai, wrapped in traditional Arab clothing, exclaim “Yes We Can (a la Obama) in front of the 800 global experts, adding that “we build the future with our own hands. Some of the attendants of the World Economic Forum’s Summit of the Global Agenda urged us to “reboot” the system. More than a “reboot”, we may have to upgrade to a new global “Yes We Can” operating system.

Brain Fitness Research

Training Attention and Emotional Self-Regulation: Dr. Michael Posner, a prominent  cognitive neuroscientist and first recipient of the Dogan Prize, grants us a fascinating interview on what attention, self-regulation, and effortful control are, and how to improve them using software, meditation, and parenting. In his words, “we have found no ceiling for abilities such as attention, including among adults. The more training (…) the higher the results.”

Neuroplasticity and the Brain That Changes Itself: Laurie Bartels reviews the excellent book by Norman Doidge, explaining that “the neuroscience behind Doidge’s book involves neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to rewire itself. This means that the brain  is our intelligence,  is not something fixed in concrete but rather a changing, learning entity.”

Can We Pick Your Brain re: Cognitive Assessments?: In our view, a critical component in the maturity of the brain fitness market will be the availability of inexpensive, valid and reliable objective cognitive assessments,  to help measure how our brain functions change over time and identify priorities for targeted improvements. Dr. Joshua Steinerman asks if you would be up for them?

Use It (Properly) or Lose It

Memory Problems? Perhaps you are Multi-tasking: Dr. Bill Klemm tells us that “Multi-tasking violates everything we know about how memory works.” He explains that “(multi-tasking) probably does make learning less tedious, but it clearly makes learning less efficient and less effective.”

Physical and mental exercise to prevent cognitive decline: The American Medical News, a weekly newspaper for physicians published by the American Medical Association, just published an excellent article on the importance of physical and mental exercise. We are very happy to see efforts like these to train physicians and health professionals in general,  given that most of them were trained under a very different understanding of the brain than the one we have today.

Brain Fitness 2: Sight & Sound: PBS recently announced the second installment of their popular Brain Fitness Program show, to start airing soon.

MetaCarnival #1: a conversation across the blogosphere: We often insist on “Novelty, Variety and Challenge” as key ingredients for good “brain exercise”. There are many ways to mix those ingredients – you may enjoy this one, the first interdisciplinary gathering of blogs and blog carnivals covering health, science, anthropology, general advice and more.

Brain Teasers

Top 15 Brain Teasers and Games for Mental Exercise: Over the last 2 years we have published close to 100 puzzles, teasers, riddles, and every kind of mental exercise (without counting our in-depth interviews with top neuroscientists). Which ones have proven most stimulating for you. Let us know. Here is a selection of our Top 15 teasers.

Final Details

That’s all for now. Next month, we will be offering another great selection of articles: Dr. Andrew Newberg will discuss the brain value of meditation,  Dr. David Rabiner will review a recent study on how neurofeedback may assist in the diagnostic of attention deficits, and much more.

Please share this newsletter with your friends and colleagues if you haven’t done so already.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Travel and Engagement as Good Brain Exercise

University of Namibia

Neuroplasticity is defined as “the ability of the brain to rewire itself through experience”.

We typically summarize a lot of brain research by encouraging SharpBrains readers is to seek for novelty, variety and challenge, as guidelines for “brain exercise” that will help build new connections in the brain, force one to be mindful and pay attention, improve abilities such as pattern-recognition, and in general contribute to lifelong brain health.

A friend just sent an update on her amazing experience in Namibia (the pic on the right shows the entrance to the University of Namibia) that shows how Travel and Engagement with meaningful projects can provide superb mental stimulation, or “brain exercise”. This is relevant at all ages, and we are encouraged to see organizations such as Civic Ventures and Elderhostel that offer opportunities for baby boomers and older adults who want to maintain active minds.

Try picturing in your mind, as you read this, all her different brain areas that are getting needed stimulation through her Namibia experience.

UPDATE: my friend just wrote to expand on the “be mindful” angle by saying that “it definitely requires purposeful processing of the information that you are consuming in order to make it a useful brain exercise. For example, I always try to journal or write thoughtful emails about my experience in order to try to best understand it.” Great point.

With her permission, here you have:


Dear Friends,

I am just returning from Namibia and am buzzing with excitement about all of the opportunities for us to make an impact there when we return with our students next Spring.

Namibia is very different than I expected. It was the last country in Africa to gain independence from colonialism, gaining independence just 20 years ago. Thus, it is much more developed than any African country that I have visited, with relatively good infrastructure and no existing debt. That said, the legacies of apartheid can still be felt in today’s society, and the people are very clearly dealing constantly with issues of race and identity. One of the most interesting experiences that I had was attending a “braai” (the Namibian version of a barbecue which basically consists of Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Health and Fitness Workshops

Today I have an announcement to make. You probably are seeing all the articles about Brain Fitness in the press and wondering, “What is this all about?”, “Can someone help me navigate through all the programs out there?”, “How is Brain Fitness relevant to me in my personal life or at work?”. Well…we are delivering a series of workshops to companies and organizations combining modules -including scientific overview, the industry trends and key players, fun team-building exercises- that can be tailored to each organization’s specific needs. Sessions last from 1 to 6 hours, depending on the group’s composition and agenda and are delivered either in person or via web conference.

We want to be able to reach more organizations, so please let us know of any ideas!

Some recent examples

1. Managing Stress for Peak Performance (we mentioned some notes on an Accenture session)

New and challenging situations – such as taking on new responsibilities– can trigger reactions in our brain and body that limit or even block our decision-making abilities. These reactions may also harm our long-term brain power and health. Although we cannot avoid change and stressful situations, we can learn how to manage our stress levels to ensure peak performance-even in tough moments. The latest neuroscience research proves that stress management is a trainable “mental muscle.” This is true for any high pressure profession, be it trading, sports, or simply modern life.

2. The Science of Brain Health and Brain Fitness (similar to what I will teach at UC Berkeley OLLI)

Neuroscientists have shown how the human brain retains neuroplasticity (the ability to rewire itself) and neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons) during its full lifetime, leading to a new understanding of Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Health through Serious Games and Brain Exercise

Eliane writes a great post estimating the size of the Serious Games Market, building on the overall PriceWaterhouseCoopers report that seemed to indicate that the Global Video Game Market is Set to Explode.

Some quotes

  • “The overall gaming audience continues to expand and become somewhat more female and older than in the past thanks to casual games and games becoming an “important part of culture” – which in my view would embed the Serious Games segment.”
  • “Whereas the military was one of the first customers of Serious Games, it has been joined by a long line of users, including other government agencies, healthcare providers, schools (both K-12 and universities) and Fortune 500 companies (for team building, leadership training, sales training and product education, among others).”
  • “This is my conservative estimate: the Serious Games market would be ranging between $200 – 400 million per year only in US, in 2007. “
  • “There is now an emergent supply chain for Corporate Serious Games, with a number of corporations taking Read the rest of this entry »

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