Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Neuroplasticity at work: Can the pill change women’s brains?

Read this recent Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can arti­cle show­ing clear­ly how the brain can change based on our dai­ly expe­ri­ences and actions:

… a new study in the jour­nal Brain Research demon­strates that […] birth con­trol pills have struc­tur­al effects on regions of the brain that gov­ern high­er-order cog­ni­tive activ­i­ties

… Where­as the sub­tle struc­tur­al effects of nat­u­ral­ly-occur­ring steroid hor­mones and sex dif­fer­ences in the brain have been exten­sive­ly stud­ied, few stud­ies have exam­ined the role of syn­thet­ic hor­mones on changes in the human brain.  What hap­pens, then, when the female brain gets a sig­nif­i­cant and arti­fi­cial dose of steroid hor­mone, either prog­es­terone, estro­gen or both? […] It appears that the brain, that sen­si­tive organ replete with steroid recep­tors, reacts to its hor­mon­al milieu with star­tling struc­tur­al mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

Com­ments: The study com­pared the brains of men, women cycling nat­u­ral­ly and women tak­ing the pill. Struc­tur­al dif­fer­ences in spe­cif­ic areas were found a) between men’s and women’s brains, b) between the brains of women cycling nat­u­ral­ly when observed at dif­fer­ent moments of their cycle, and c) between the brains of women cycling nat­u­ral­ly and those of women tak­ing the pill. Over­all the study points out that hor­mones can affect brain struc­tures via neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty, the abil­i­ty of the brain to change. Since no cog­ni­tive mea­sures were used it is not pos­si­ble to know whether any of these struc­tur­al changes  alter our per­for­mance at all. There is no evi­dence so far as to whether these struc­tur­al chances are bad or good.


Improve Brain Health Now: Easy Steps

We can sum­ma­rize a lot of research by say­ing that there are four essen­tial pil­lars to main­tain­ing a healthy brain that func­tions bet­ter now and lasts longer. Those pil­lars are:

  • 1) Phys­i­cal Exer­cise
  • 2) Men­tal Exer­cise
  • 3) Good Nutri­tion
  • 4) Stress Man­age­ment

Great … now what?! How do you devel­op a healthy lifestyle that includes all four pil­lars? Let’s look at each one.

  1. Phys­i­cal Exer­cise
    • Start by talk­ing to your doc­tor, espe­cial­ly if you are not cur­rent­ly phys­i­cal­ly active, have spe­cial health con­cerns, or are mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant changes to your cur­rent pro­gram.
    • Set a goal that you can achieve. Do some­thing you enjoy for even just 15 min­utes a day. You can always add more time and activ­i­ties lat­er.
    • Sched­ule exer­cise into your dai­ly rou­tine. It will be become a habit faster if you do.
    • If you can only do one thing, do some­thing car­dio­vas­cu­lar, mean­ing some­thing that gets your heart beat­ing faster. This includes walk­ing, run­ning, ski­ing, swim­ming, bik­ing, hik­ing, ten­nis, bas­ket­ball, play­ing tag, ulti­mate Fris­bee, and oth­er sim­i­lar sports/activities.
  2. Men­tal Exer­cise
    • Be curi­ous! Get to know your local library and com­mu­ni­ty col­lege, look for local orga­ni­za­tions or church­es that offer class­es or work­shops
    • Do a vari­ety of things, includ­ing Read the rest of this entry »

Brain exercises: Want a workout for your brain?

Very fun arti­cle in the Birm­ing­ham News today on Sharp­Brains and brain exer­cis­es, titled Want a work­out for your brain?.

The jour­nal­ist explains things very well and with great humor (for the humor, you need to read the arti­cle!). Here are some quotes:

- “Think of it as a gym­na­si­um for your mind,” Sharp­Brains CEO and co-founder Alvaro Fer­nan­dez says from his office in San Fran­cis­co.

- (On only doing cross­words) “That’s good, but, like your body, you don’t just exer­cise one part of the brain,” says Fer­nan­dez, who holds an MBA and a master’s degree in edu­ca­tion from Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty. “You need con­stant vari­ety, and new things, to keep your brain work­ing hard.”

- “He sees men­tal gym­nas­tics as the next main­stream adult trend and points out that ther­a­pists have long used a vari­ety of sim­i­lar exer­cis­es to help in the recov­ery of brain-injury patients. Ath­letes and air­plane pilots have had access to exer­cis­es designed to improve their periph­er­al vision and reac­tion times, Fer­nan­dez says.”

- “With Sharp­Brains co-founder Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg, a clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­o­gy at the New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine, Fer­nan­dez has col­lect­ed what he says are the best com­put­er-based brain work­outs avail­able, includ­ing a pro­gram to help chil­dren with atten­tion deficits and anoth­er aimed at reduc­ing stress man­age­ment among busi­ness exec­u­tives.”

Cogmed, Freeze-Framer, IntelliGym, MindFit, Posit Science

We are spend­ing more time talk­ing to jour­nal­ists these days. A fre­quent ques­tion we receive is, “OK, which com­put­er-based pro­grams do you con­sid­er to be Brain Fit­ness Pro­grams, not just “games” for pure fun”?.

Our answer: the rate of devel­op­ment of new pro­grams by neu­ro­sci­en­tists world­wide is real­ly increas­ing, and there are already a few out there that com­bine good under­ly­ing sci­ence with embed­ded qual­i­ty assess­ments and user-friendly guide­lines and exercises from a fit­ness and pre­ven­tion (vs. med­ical “pre­scrip­tion”) per­spec­tive. Some of these are:

Cogmed Work­ing Mem­o­ry Train­ing pro­gram (RoboMemo), helps chil­dren with atten­tion deficits to over­come the work­ing mem­o­ry gap. and is dis­trib­uted exclu­sive­ly through select­ed clin­i­cal providers.

Freeze-Framer is a bio­met­ric-based sys­tem that helps peo­ple of all ages and occu­pa­tions (from stu­dents to nurs­es and traders) get into The Zone of opti­mal learn­ing and per­for­mance by man­ag­ing the neg­a­tive effects of stress and anx­i­ety. Our part­ner is the Insti­tute of Heart­Math.

Intel­li­Gym  pro­vides a men­tal work­out to improve core bas­ket­ball abil­i­ties, such as coor­di­na­tion, atten­tion con­trol, periph­er­al vision, and perception.  Yes, this can be trained. It is bas­ket­ball spe­cif­ic, so we don’t rec­om­mend it for oth­er sports. Our part­ner is ACE.

Mind­Fit helps train 14 dif­fer­ent cog­ni­tive func­tions that are impor­tant for healthy aging. Even if the activ­i­ties are help­ful for peo­ple of all ages (I per­son­al­ly use it as my “brain gym” dur­ing flights, being in my mid-30s), the look & feel is more appro­pri­ate for peo­ple over 50, so we rec­om­mend it main­ly for that group. Our part­ner is Vig­or­ous Mind.

Posit Sci­ence offers an inten­sive pro­gram for train­ing core audi­to­ry pro­cess­ing abil­i­ties. Audi­to­ry pro­cess­ing is one of the areas that typ­i­cal­ly decline with age, so this would be a great start­ing point for any­one, usu­al­ly above 60 giv­en the mar­ket­ing we see in their web­site, who may be expe­ri­enc­ing prob­lems with his/ her hear­ing and under­stand­ing capa­bil­i­ties. We do not offer this pro­gram through our web­site, but cer­tain­ly respect their sci­en­tists and research.

We are con­stant­ly look­ing for new ones, so keep tuned.

 

2007 New Year Resolution: Carnival of Brain Fitness

Hap­py 2007 to every­one!

We have just for­mu­lat­ed our New Year Res­o­lu­tion: make 2007 the year when brain plas­tic­i­ty and Brain Fit­ness became main­stream con­cepts.

How do we start? well, let’s announce the launch of the Car­ni­val of Brain Fit­ness (a Blog Car­ni­val is basi­cal­ly the vehi­cle that blogs use to share posts around spe­cif­ic top­ics).

Goal: to facil­i­tate a dia­logue about this emerg­ing field across mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives, from sci­en­tists and health pro­fes­sion­als, to edu­ca­tion and train­ing ones, to basi­cal­ly every­one who has con­duct­ed an exper­i­ment on his on her brain and mind, and has news to report.

Con­text: The sci­en­tif­ic foun­da­tions lie in neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis, neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty, cog­ni­tive train­ing and stress man­age­ment. Med­ical and health appli­ca­tions range from stroke and TBI reha­bil­i­ta­tion to ADD/ADHD and ear­ly Alzheimer’s to Mind­ful­ness Based Stress Reduc­tion and cog­ni­tive ther­a­py. Edu­ca­tion­al and train­ing appli­ca­tions go from help­ing kids improve read­ing abil­i­ties to help­ing man­age stress and anx­i­ety — includ­ing work with the “men­tal game” in sports and high-demand activ­i­ties pr pro­fes­sions. Each of us may also have expe­ri­ences to report, where we saw first hand, no mat­ter our age, our innate abil­i­ty to refine and trans­form our­selves (and our brains).

Mechan­ics: If you’d like to con­tribute, Read the rest of this entry »

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking health and performance applications of brain science.

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