Mental Aspects of Sport Performance

The common phrase “the game is 95% mental” is well known, but hardly respected at least as measured by the amount of time one works on the mental side of any sport. For those professional and amateur athletes who perform at the highest levels, the common thread to their excellence is the mastery of the mental part of their work or game.

I watched the Masters’ Golf Tournament and took away a deep appreciation again of the significance of the mental part of the game. Indeed, the mental part of the game can completely alter a highly proficient mechanical or physical part of the game. Consider the major leaguer who falls into a slump, a professional golfer who cannot hit a three foot putt, and the professional basketball player who cannot drain the fifteen foot foul shot. This is despite the fact that these professionals are the best on the planet and can achieve success at these tasks 98% of the time.

The Masters’ typically begins on Sunday and the last nine holes. This is the time when the mental aspect of the game really becomes paramount, though clearly the mental part of the golf game is always important. Perhaps it is the nearing of the end of the tournament, the amount of fame derived from winning this major tournament, or the fear of failure that cause the execution of the swing or putt to drift. Truly, the ability to put all of these and other mental distractions to the side and mentally focus on the execution of what the professional has done thousands of times represents the road to success and victory.

That the greatest athletes on the planet can be so affected, negatively and positively, by the mental energy and focus of the game is impressive. The human brain’s ability to harness and focus this energy, to not get distracted, to remain confident in the execution of the mechanics, and to see success will always be in the winner’s circle no matter what profession we are discussing.

Hit em straight!

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Spirituality and Brain Health

Spirituality has many meanings and it may mean something different to different people. I am  referring to spirituality as one means of turning inward to a peaceful existence and to remove oneself from the hurried society that is modern life.  Prayer/worship, meditation, and relaxation procedures are just three examples of spirituality.

Early research on the human brain exposed to life threatening stressors indicates there is similar damage to the hippocampus as is known to exist in animals. Also, humans with chronic anxiety have memory problems again supporting the negative effect of stress and uncontrolled anxiety on brain function.

Research and surveys have reported the following positive effects of spirituality on health:

  • An enhanced immune system, the system that helps you defend against colds, flu, and other illnesses.
    Reports of longer, happier and healthier lives.
  • As part of the daily routine while in the hospital relates to an earlier discharge.
  • According to a past Parade Magazine Survey, 95% of the physicians in the U.S. believe spirituality is   important to the well-being of their patients.

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Write and Make Sure you Pack in the Ideas

You probably don’t think about a diary as evidence for how healthy your brain might be. This is especially true if the diary is kept when one is in his or her teens. Interestingly, however, it turns out that the type of writing we do in our teens or early life may actually predict neuropathologic markers in our brains many decades later!

The Nun Study (see David Snowden) reported that young women prior to taking their vows to become nuns kept diaries. The content of these diaries were rated for grammar complexity and idea density defined as the number of ideas in each sentence. Results indicated that the number of ideas in each sentence at the age of 22 or so correlated with the number of neurofibrillary tangles (marker of Alzheimer’s disease) in the brain at autopsy some 50 or 60 years later.

This is another study in a long line of research indicating early life environments are critical to shaping our brains for health well into late life

Caloric Restriction and Memory

We have known for some time that caloric restriction relates to longevity and functional health in animals. This has been well documented and discussed in previous blogs from Fit brains. However, the issue of whether caloric restriction also benefits humans has been less clear. It’s also obvious and important to note how difficult caloric restriction can be for humans, particularly when such reduction in calories is significant.

Much work is done on the quality of what is consumed when one reviews the many dietary plans offered on the market. Less is focused on the quantity and it is generally true that those living in western nations over-consume. This has resulted in an alarming increase in obesity and diabetes, including a significant number of cases emerging in childhood.

The balance of sugars and insulin in our bodies is very important. An unhealthy balance can lead to diabetes and multiple other medical problems, some of which affect the brain such as stroke and dementia. We now know that what we eat affects both the structure and function of our brain and more attention is now focused on both the quality and quantity of our diets.

Can Exercising Your Brain Prevent Memory Loss?

Scientists all over the world are starting to agree that stimulating the brain can improve brain power. Numerous studies show that activities such as interactive games can help maintain key cognitive functions.

According to a new study presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 61st Annual Meeting, participating in certain mental activities, like reading magazines or crafting in middle age or later in life, may delay or prevent memory loss. The study involved 197 people between the ages of 70 and 89 with mild cognitive impairment, or diagnosed memory loss, and 1,124 people that age with no memory problems.

The study found that during later years, reading books, participating in computer activities, playing games and doing craft activities such as pottery or quilting led to a 30 to 50 percent decrease in the risk of developing memory loss compared to people who did not do those activities.

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