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Dr. Art Kramer on Why We Need Walking Book Clubs to Enhance Cognitive Fitness and Brain Health

Art KramerDr. Arthur Kramer is a Pro­fes­sor in the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois Depart­ment of Psy­chol­o­gy, the Cam­pus Neu­ro­science Pro­gram, the Beck­man Insti­tute, and the Direc­tor of the Bio­med­ical Imag­ing Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois.

I am hon­ored to inter­view him today.

Dr. Kramer, thank you for your time. Let’ start by try­ing to clar­i­fy some exist­ing mis­con­cep­tions and con­tro­ver­sies. Based on what we know today, and your recent Nature piece (ref­er­enced below), what are the 2–3 key lifestyle habits would you sug­gest to a per­son who wants to delay Alzheimer’s symp­toms and improve over­all brain health?

First, Be Active. Do phys­i­cal exer­cise. Aer­o­bic exer­cise, 30 to 60 min­utes per day 3 days per week, has been shown to have an impact in a vari­ety of exper­i­ments. And you don’t need to do some­thing stren­u­ous: even walk­ing has shown that effect. There are many open ques­tions in terms of spe­cif­ic types of exer­cise, dura­tion, mag­ni­tude of effect but, as we wrote in our recent Nature Reviews Neu­ro­science arti­cle, there is lit­tle doubt that lead­ing a seden­tary life is bad for our cog­ni­tive health. Car­dio­vas­cu­lar exer­cise seems to have a pos­i­tive effect.

Sec­ond, Main­tain Life­long Intel­lec­tu­al Engage­ment. There is abun­dant prospec­tive obser­va­tion­al research show­ing that doing more men­tal­ly stim­u­lat­ing activ­i­ties reduces the risk of devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s symp­toms.

Let me add, giv­en all media hype, that no “brain game” in par­tic­u­lar has been shown to have a long-term impact on Alzheimer’s or the main­te­nance of cog­ni­tion across extend­ed peri­ods of time. It is too ear­ly for that-and con­sumers should be aware of that fact. It is true that some com­pa­nies are being more sci­ence-based than oth­ers but, in my view, the con­sumer-ori­ent­ed field is grow­ing faster than the research is.

Ide­al­ly, com­bine both phys­i­cal and men­tal stim­u­la­tion along with social inter­ac­tions. Why not take a good walk with friends to dis­cuss a book? We lead very busy lives, so the more inte­grat­ed and inter­est­ing activ­i­ties are, the more like­ly we will do them.

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Best of the Brain from Scientific American

Best of Brain, Scientific American

The Dana Foun­da­tion kind­ly sent us a copy of the great book Best of the Brain from Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can, a col­lec­tion of 21 superb arti­cles pub­lished pre­vi­ous­ly in Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can mag­a­zine. A very nice­ly edit­ed and illus­trat­ed book, this is a must for any­one who enjoys learn­ing about the brain and spec­u­lat­ing about what the future will bring us.

Some essays, like the ones by Eric Kan­del (The New Sci­ence of Mind), Fred Gage (Brain, Repair Your­self), Carl Zim­mer (The Neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gy of the Self) and that by Steven Hol­lon, Michael Thase and John Markowitz (Treat­ing Depres­sion: Pills or Talk), are both intel­lec­tu­al feasts and very rel­e­vant to brain fit­ness. And final­ly start­ing to per­co­late into main­stream con­scious­ness.

Let me quote some quotes and reflec­tions as I was read­ing the book a cou­ple of days ago, in the court­yard of a beau­ti­ful French cafe in Berke­ley:

1) On Brain Plas­tic­i­ty (the abil­i­ty of the brain to rewire itself), Fred Gage says: “With­in the past 5 years, how­ev­er, neu­ro­sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered that the brain does indeed change through­out life-…The new cells and con­nec­tions that we and oth­ers have doc­u­ment­ed may pro­vide the extra capac­i­ty the brain requires for the vari­ety of chal­lenges that indi­vid­u­als face through­out life. Such plas­tic­i­ty offers a pos­si­ble mech­a­nism through which the brain might be induced to repair itself after injury or dis­ease. It might even open the prospect of enhanc­ing an already healthy brain’s pow­er to think and abil­i­ty to feel”

2)  and How Expe­ri­ence affects Brain Struc­ture: Under the sec­tion title “A Brain Work­out”, Fred Gage says “One of the mot strik­ing aspects of neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis (Note: the cre­ation of new neu­rons) is that expe­ri­ence can reg­u­late the rate of cell divi­sion, the sur­vival of new­born neu­rons and their abil­i­ty to inte­grate into the exist­ing neur­al circuits…The best way to aug­ment brain func­tion might not involve drugs or cell implants but lifestyle changes.”

3) Biol­o­gy of Mind: Eric Kan­del pro­vides a won­der­ful overview of the most Read the rest of this entry »

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