Author Archives: Dr. Paul Nussbaum

Our Future is in Good Hands!

I had the distinct pleasure of being invited to the 2012 Destination Imagination (DI) Global Finals (www.globalfinals.org) event in Knoxville Tennessee. I provided the keynote address for opening ceremonies and learned about DI during my time spent over the four days at the event.

DI is a not-for-profit that brings young students together from across the planet to engage in critical thinking and creative challenges within an environment of competition. I can tell everyone that I saw tremendously talented young people from across the globe and I am happy to pronounce that our future is in good hands!

Chuck Cadle, CEO of DI has done a terrific job of leading DI with hundreds of volunteers committed to the mission of inspiring young brains to create and innovate. In a world where we talk about the need to apply our knowledge, DI is setting the pace.

I was given the opportunity to provide a five-minute keynote address to the 17,000 gathered at opening ceremonies in the basketball arena at the University of Tennessee. While I have spoken to many audiences across North America, this was truly a unique and awesome experience. There was some concern that young children might not be interested in hearing about the human brain and the importance that learning and lifestyle can have on the brain. I had no doubt, and many quickly learned how capable and interested these young people are in the brain.

I was so impressed with watching the student groups perform their competitive challenges and with the fun that was generated by all. I was also humbled by the genuine interest of so many students, teachers, and parents from many nations who introduced themselves to me and said they enjoyed my keynote.  I met many new friends and I congratulate the families who participated in 2012 Global Finals at DI.

Great job to Chuck and the entire DI staff. Thanks for letting be a small part.

Lifestyle and Brain Health

There was a conference held in Washington DC recently that dealt with prevention of dementia. This was an important event, as our society tends to approach health quite reactively. Indeed, the first Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on the Prevention of Dementia was held in mid April and lifestyle was highlighted as an important factor in both the etiology and potential protection against dementia.

As my work over the past decade or more has been focused on a proactive and comprehensive brain health lifestyle ® to build brain resiliency, it is easy to understand how pleased I am to see such conferences and discussion. I have been working to promote a comprehensive lifestyle approach that includes nutrition, socialization, mental stimulation, physical activity, and spirituality to build brain health across the lifespan (see www.paulnussbaum.com).

I was pleased to serve as guest editor of Generations, the official journal of the American Society on Aging (www.asaging.org) that published a special issue on the latest clinical research on brain health and lifestyle (Generations, 35, 2011). The information was then presented at the recent Annual Conference of the American Society of Aging-Brain Health Forum. Interestingly, the event was also held in Washington DC. Perhaps the one-two punch on brain health and lifestyle will generate some interest in the legislative world where it can help to prioritize a national proactive and lifelong effort for brain health.

A brain health lifestyle ® needs to begin in the womb and to be prioritized across the entire lifespan. Delaying or withstanding the effects of the neuropathological markers of the disease can have an enormous benefit for both quality of life and the economics of Alzheimer’s disease. There is nothing wrong with ongoing study for an intervention that will halt or cure the disease. However, it is simply foolish to ignore the robust literature on the relationship between lifestyle and brain resiliency. It is the resiliency of the human brain that is at present perhaps our best approach to confront and combat potential dementia.

Most important, the proactive brain health lifestyle ® (see Nussbaum-Save Your Brain at Amazon.com) needs to be started at the earliest of ages, prioritized in our lives, and understood from a deeply personal level.

Love and the Brain

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found a strong relationship between maternal support and nurturing in early childhood and the size of the hippocampus by school age. This is particularly interesting since so much recent study has focused on the power of the environment in shaping the structure and the function of the brain.

Children who obtain loving and nurturing care from their parents and particularly their mother (per this study) demonstrate larger hippocampal volume years later. The hippocampus is a structure in our brains critical for new learning and for processing stressful input. Chronic stress has been shown to negatively impact the structure and function of the hippocampus. This is why persons with chronic anxiety have memory problems.

On the positive side, a larger hippocampus not only helps us cope more effectively with daily stress, it also relates to reduced risk of mental illness and even to reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Once again, early life interventions, in this case understanding the importance of loving our children, can have lifelong health benefits.

We need to continue to appreciate and respect the enormous import that factors such as attitude, positive spirit, faith, and love have on our health and wellbeing. These things do not come in a pill or liquid, but they represent the best medicine we have and we should all prescribe ourselves a daily dose.

Natural Light: Positive Effects on the Brain and Health

I have been studying research in the area of natural light and its interaction on the human brain. An important point to make is that appropriate exposure to natural light has positive effects on our circadian rhythm and in turn promotes many aspects of health.

We evolved from exposure to natural day lighting. The sun provides a specific wavelength (blue range) in the early morning that lasts until early afternoon. At that point a different light wavelength is produced (red to orange range). We recently discovered that the retina has a specific photoreceptor that detects light and sends it to a special part of the brain known as the suprachiasm, located near the hypothalamus. Once the suprachiasm is triggered, it sets off the hypothalamus, the master gland that in turn triggers the pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands of the brain and body. The hormonal reaction to light is what causes and promotes the diverse actions of the body and health.

The blue range of light helps our bodies become aroused, alert, attentive and focused. As the day proceeds and we enter the afternoon when the blue range of light shifts to the red/orange range our bodies begin the process of slowing and ultimately sleeping. Our body slows in blood pressure and we enter the four stages of sleep including deep sleep. Melatonin is produced and growth hormones are triggered.

The circadian rhythm (means approximately a day) is critically important to our health as it has effects on our immune system, ability to fight off disease, hunger and obesity, blood pressure, and cognition. It controls our sleep wake cycle so important for brain function and body regulation.

I have learned that there are design lighting systems that help to promote exposure to natural light, to help set the circadian rhythm, and to promote human performance in the workplace and school. Natural lighting via design lighting systems can also help older adults residing in assisted living or long-term care facilities. Older adults experience changes in their sleep wake cycles and this gets exacerbated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies support increased school performance by students, and reduced agitation and increased sleep for older adults who reside or study in environments with the natural day lighting systems.

Email or call me if you work in a school district, an assisted living facility, or other building and have interest in enhancing human behavior and saving money from the energy efficiencies of natural day lighting systems.

On That Annual Resolution

By now most of us have declared our 2012 resolution (s) with great passion and hope. Honesty tells us that we may have been in this same spot last year with a wonderful declaration to give this up or to start that. Well, what happened? How many actually accomplished their 2011 resolution and if not, why not?

First, the hardest thing to do is to change another person’s behavior. The second hardest thing to do is to change our own behavior, particularly when it comes to lifestyle. We know that the resolution to eat healthy is a great idea, but why are so many of us not able to follow through? We know losing weight is tremendously helpful to our health, yet many of us are actually gaining weight! We even know that being more patient and understanding of others can reduce our stress, but that irritability and anger often creeps in.

So there is an obvious disconnect between what we know to be good for our health and what we actually do. Why? I suggest that you take a good look at your resolution for 2012. Please try to keep it to one resolution, remember behavior change is hard and we need some success for the entire year. Second, develop a resolution that is personally relevant to you, something that is meaningful. Is losing weight really something you feel personally? The more personal something is the better chance you have to change or to begin. Third, who is holding you accountable? You need someone other than yourself to hold you accountable. Finally, with success comes a reward. Establish up front what your reward for successful completion of the resolution is and enjoy it!

  1. One resolution only.
  2. Make the resolution personal.
  3. Identify who will hold you accountable?
  4. Reward yourself upon your success.

Have a great 2012!