Archive for February, 2007

We have moved

Hello dear readers: after a transition period, we have definitively moved to http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog

we-moved.jpg

Please visit us there if you want to keep reading our (close to) daily articles. Please update your feed, and any technorati/ stumbleupon/ del.ic.ious account you may have pointing at this old address. Our new location:
http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog

We won’t be posting more articles here.

We’ll see you there!
-Caroline & Alvaro

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Is physical fitness important to your brain fitness?

Here is question 18 of 25 from Brain Fitness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Questions.Trail Runner

Question:
Is physical fitness important to your brain fitness?

Key Points:

  • Exercise improves learning through increased blood supply and growth hormones.
  • Exercise is an anti-depressant by reducing stress and promoting neurogenesis.
  • Exercise protects the brain from damage and disease, as well as speeding the recovery.
  • Exercise benefits you the most when you start young.

Answer:

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Are there herbal and vitamin supplements that will protect my memory?

Here is question 17 of 25 from Brain Fitness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Questions.

Question:
Are there herbal and vitamin supplements that will protect my memory?

Key Points:

  • Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in cold-water fish may be helpful to long term brain health.
  • Folic acid may also be helpful to both cognitive function and hearing.
  • Ginkgo biloba and DHEA do not appear to help your brain.
  • There is still more research to be done and never dismiss the placebo effect!

Answer:

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Brain Training and SharpBrains in the news

Several recent stories on brain training and SharpBrains:

1) New brain games may improve mind fitness by Kevin Kosterman (U of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s Advance-Titan)

“Anytime we learn, we are training, changing, our brain,” Fernandez said. “The three key core elements for effective brain exercise are novelty, variety and constant challenge, similar to increasing the level in machines we find in gyms.”

2) “Training the Brain as possible as Training the Body”, جريدة النهار by Hanadi El Diri (Annahar, one of the most prestigious papers in the Middle East. The text is in Arabic.)

3) “Train your brain” by Mark Muckenfuss (The Press-Enterprise in Riverside and San Bernardino)

“We cannot promise to people you will only keep getting better until you are 200 years old. But I think people still underestimate how flexible the brain really is.”

The SmartBrains [sic] program combines mental exercises with a stress reduction program. Too much stress, says Fernandez, has been shown to be damaging not only to performance, but to the brain itself.
With all of the available programs for stimulating the brain, he says, it is important to shop carefully. A critical element, he says, is how clients or participants are evaluated.

“Make sure they have a credible assessment that helps you find your strengths and weaknesses and that they have programs that address (those areas),” he says. “Assessments that give you 50 (as an age-equivalent grade) and a week later you’re 32, that’s not a valuable assessment.”

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Enhancing Cognition and Emotions for Learning – Learning & The Brain Conference

Alvaro and I had the good fortune to attend a great conference last week called Learning & The Brain: Enhancing Cognition and Emotions for Learning. It was a wonderful mix of neuroscientists and educators talking with and listening to each other. Some topics were meant to be applied today, but many were food for thought – insight on where science and education are headed and how they influence each other.

Using dramatic new imaging techniques, such as fMRIs, PET, and SPECT, neuroscientists are gaining valuable information about learning. This pioneering knowledge is leading not only to new pedagogies, but also to new medications, brain enhancement technologies, and therapies…. The Conference creates an interdisciplinary forum — a meeting place for neuroscientists, educators, psychologists, clinicians, and parents — to examine these new research findings with respect to their applicability in the classroom and clinical practice.

Take-aways

  • Humans are a mixture of cognition and emotion, and both elements are essential to function and learn properly
  • Educators and public policy makers need to learn more about the brain, how it grows, and how to cultivate it
  • Students of all ages need to be both challenged and nurtured in order to succeed
  • People learn differently – try to teach and learn through as many different modalities as possible (engage language, motor skills, artistic creation, social interaction, sensory input, etc.)
  • While short-term stress can heighten your cognitive abilities, long term stress kills you — you need to find balance and release
  • Test anxiety and subsequent poor test results can be improved with behavioral training with feedback based on heart rate variability
  • Dr. Robert Sapolsky is a very very enlightening and fun speaker
  • Allow time for rest and consolidation of learned material
  • Emotional memories are easier to remember
  • Conferences like these perform a real service in fostering dialogues between scientists and educators

The sessions were broken into several subtopics:

ENHANCING THE BRAIN, COGNITION & EDUCATION
Topics included: neuroethics, school readiness, “back to basics” versus “discovery learning”, functional neuroimaging, the Six Developmental Pathways of physical, cognitive, language, social, ethical, and psychological skills

Speakers included: Michael S. Gazzaniga, Ph.D., Kurt W. Fischer, Ph.D., John D.E. Gabrieli, Ph.D., Linda Darling-Hammond, Ed.D., Daniel L. Schwartz, Ph.D., Jeb Schenck, Ph.D., Ross A. Thompson, Ph.D., Fay E. Brown, Ph.D., and Mariale M. Hardiman, Ed.D.

MOOD, LEARNING & GENDER DIFFERENCES
Topics included: chronic stress, bipolar disorder, ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, sex differences in learning, and creativity

Speakers included: Robert M. Sapolsky, Ph.D., Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., Stephen P. Hinshaw, Ph.D., Bryna Siegel, Ph.D., Kiki D. Chang, M.D., Michael Gurian, M.A., Sam Goldstein, Ph.D., Lawrence H. Diller, M.D., and Terence A. Ketter, M.D.

ENHANCING MEMORY AND EMOTIONS
Topics included: mirror neurons, stress, anxiety, emotions, pharmacologic manipulations of memory, emotional events, sex differences, and “brain-considerate” learning environments, social functioning, decision making, motivation, achievement, positive-emotion refocusing

Speakers included: Kenneth A.Wesson, Ph.D., Kenneth S. Kosik, M.D., Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., Larry Cahill, Ph.D., Mary Fowler, M.A., Rollin McCraty, Ph.D., Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Ed.D., Ed.M., and Robert Sylwester, Ed.D.

NEUROSCIENCE, LANGUAGE & READING
Topics included: reading disorders, dyslexia, assessment, instructional strategies, the achievement gap, and integration of visual, auditory, and language information

Speakers included: Brian A.Wandell, Ph.D., Connie Juel, Ph.D., and Steven G. Feifer, Ed.D., NCSP.

THE ARTS, MUSIC & COGNITION
Topics included: artistic process versus art content, effects of music on cognitive performance, and the generalizability of of artistic abilities to cognitive abilities

Speakers included: James S. Catterall, Ph.D. and Frances H. Rauscher, Ph.D.

Conference Co-Sponsors:

Further Reading

Save the Date! April 28-30, 2007 is the next conference, Learning & The Brain – Molding Minds: How to Shape the Developing Brain for Learning & Achievement, in Cambridge, Mass. We will post more information about this conference shortly.

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The Upside of Aging (SmartBrains)-WSJ

Sharon Begley writes another great article on The Upside of Aging – WSJ.com (subscription required)

  • “The aging brain is subject to a dreary litany of changes. It shrinks, Swiss cheese-like holes grow, connections between neurons become sparser, blood flow and oxygen supply fall. That leads to trouble with short-term memory and rapidly switching attention, among other problems. And that’s in a healthy brain.”
  • “But it’s not all doom and gloom. An emerging body of research shows that a surprising array of mental functions hold up well into old age, while others actually get better. Vocabulary improves, as do other verbal abilities such as facility with synonyms and antonyms. Older brains are packed with more so-called …”

We discussed some of this effects with Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, who wrote his great book The Wisdom Paradox precisely on this point, at The Executive Brain and How our Minds Can Grow Stronger.

In our “Exercising Our Brains” Classes, we typically explain how some areas typically improve as we age, such as self-regulation, emotional functioning and Wisdom (which means moving from Problem solving to Pattern recognition), whereas other typically decline: effortful problem-solving for novel situations, processing speed, memory, attention and mental imagery. 

But the key message is that our actions influence the rate of improvement and/ or decline. Our awareness that “it’s not all doom and gloom” and that there’s much we can do is important. You may want to learn more with our Exercise Your Brain DVD.

You can also learn more on the Successful Aging of the Healthy Brain: a beautiful essay by Marian Diamond on how to keep our brains and minds active and fit throughout our lives.

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Brain Fitness February Newsletter/ Brain Awareness Week

We hope you are enjoying the growing coverage of Brain Fitness as much as we are. Below you have the monthly email update we sent a few days ago.

In this post, we will briefly cover:

I. Press: see what CBS and Time Magazine are talking about. SharpBrains was introduced in the Birmingham News, Chicago Tribune and in a quick note carried by the American Psychological Association news service.

II. Events: we are outreach partners for the Learning & the Brain conference, which will gather neuroscientists and educators, and for the Dana Foundation’s Brain Awareness Week.

III. Program Reviews: The Wall Street Journal reviewed six different programs for brain exercise and aging, and the one we offer is one of the two winners. A college-level counseling center starts offering our stress management one. And we interview a Notre Dame scientist who has conducted a replication study for the working memory training program for kids with ADD/ ADHD.

IV. New Offerings: we have started to offer two information packages that can be very useful for people who want to better understand this field before they commit to any particular program: learn more about our Brain Fitness 101 guide and Exercise Your Brain DVD.

V. Website and Blog Summary: we revamped our home page and have had a very busy month writing many good articles. We also hosted two “Blog Carnivals”- don’t you want to know what that means? Continue Reading

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Are yoga and meditation good for my brain?

Yoga
Here is question 16 of 25 from Brain Fitness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Questions.

Question:
Are yoga and meditation good for my brain?

Key Points:

  • Yoga, meditation, and visualization are all excellent ways to learn to manage your stress levels.
  • Reducing stress, and the stress hormones, in your system is critical to your brain and overall fitness.

Answer:
Yes. It’s clear that our society has changed faster than our genes. Instead of being faced with physical, immediately life-threatening crises that demand instant action, these days we deal with events and illnesses that gnaw away at us slowly, without any stress release.
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I don’t want to ever retire. What can I do to remain sharp? (SmartBrains)

Here is question 15 of 25 from Brain Fitness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Questions.

Question:
I don’t want to ever retire. What can I do to remain sharp?

Key Points:

  • Provide your brain with regular mental stimulation that is novel and challenging.
  • Maintain your social network for both stimulation and stress reduction.

“Research has shown that contrary to popular belief, the brain is constantly undergoing neurogenesis, the development of new neurons and dendrites,” said Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, Clinical Professor of Neurology at New York University School of Medicine. “Learning and targeted mental exercise promotes neurogenesis – the creation of new neurons – just as muscle growth is promoted through physical exercise.”

Answer:

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Heart Rate Variability as an Index of Regulated Emotional Responding

Continuing with the theme of a Week of Science sponsored by Just Science, we will highlight some of the key points in: Appelhans BM, Luecken LJ. Heart Rate Variability as an Index of Regulated Emotional Responding. Review of General Psychology. 2006;10:229–240.

Defining Heart Rate Variability
Effective emotional regulation depends on being able to flexibly adjust your physiological response to a changing environment.

“… heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the continuous interplay between sympathetic and parasympathetic influences on heart rate that yields information about autonomic flexibility and thereby represents the capacity for regulated emotional responding.”

“HRV reflects the degree to which cardiac activity can be modulated to meet changing situational demands.”

The sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PNS) branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) antagonistically influence the lengths of time between consecutive heartbeats. Faster heart rates, which can be due to increased SNS and/or lower PNS activity, correspond to a shorter interbeat interval while slower heart rates have a longer interbeat interval, which can be attributed to increased PNS and/or decreased SNS activity.

The frequency-based HRV analyses are based on the fact that the variations in heart rate produced by SNS and PNS activity occur at different speeds, or frequencies. SNS is slow acting and mediated by norepinephrine while PNS influence is fast acting and mediated by acetylcholine.

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