Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


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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