Tin Man or Scarecrow?

Most everyone remembers the wonderful drama Wizard of Oz in which two of the characters, the Tin Man was searching for his heart and the Scarecrow for his brain. It is interesting to consider how cultures from the beginning of civilization have perceived the human body.

Egyptians buried their royalty after removing every organ from the body but the heart. Shakespeare and others have published classic writings on the heart and the emotions associated with this organ. Indeed, our social language has concluded that the heart is the epicenter of human existence and that our fundamental and deep emotions are housed and expressed there.

Stepping back from a deliberate and conscious consideration of this belief is a cold reality that the heart is a pump that perfuses blood throughout our system. The cold truth is that the heart never deserved to be considered the epicenter of anything! We do not feel, move, or think with the heart anymore than we do with the lungs or pancreas. Amazingly, our culture is so smitten with the heart that we even express ourselves in nonsensical ways such as “I love you with all my heart,” “you broke my heart,” the Steelers played their hearts out,” “the Heartbeat of America.” We even have a holiday dedicated to the heart called Valentines’ Day in which you will observe some (typically men) walking around with red boxes shaped like a heart!

While this is a bit fun we should pause and consider a serious fact that the human brain is the system that provides our emotional, motor, and cognitive abilities. Indeed, our brain is our epicenter and it defines our existence and interaction with the world around us. True the heart is critical for pumping the blood to the brain, but love, grief, laughter, fear, hope, mobility, memory, imagination, creativity, language and so much more are outcomes of the miracle that is our brain.

A basic understanding of this fact helps us to appreciate how wrong our thinking has been since the beginning of time. Fortunately, some of this foolish thinking has actually led to sound and effective policy regarding cardiac health (did you ever notice little red hearts next to foods in your grocery stores or on the menu?). We simply need to take an objective understanding of the facts on the human brain and how important it is to our very existence and begin to apply practice and policy that promotes the health and expansion of the human brain.

Maybe the brain will get its own holiday!!

Practical Tips for Your Executive System

No worry, this is not a list of leadership skills or how to become the best CEO in the world! Rather, you may not even realize you have your own “Executive System” that sits in the region of your brain known as the frontal lobe. The largest and youngest member of your cortex, the frontal lobe is a very interesting part of you. It facilitates many important and distinct skills that are used everyday. Examples of such skills include planning, organization, analytic, sequencing, multi-tasking, inhibition, creativity, attention and discrimination, fluency, emotional expression and perception, ethics and social grace, and judgment. Even your personality is the product of frontal lobe function!

We refer to the frontal lobe as the “executive system” because it serves the role of executing the multiple intentions that arrive from other parts of the brain. It is the CEO of the brain or the grand Maestro of the behavioral and cognitive symphony of the brain. Clearly, the frontal lobe—executive system is critical to your neuronal health.

Some practical tips to stimulate and exercise your executive system include the following:

1. Organize your day, organize your room (good one for the teenagers in the house!), and help to organize an event or even your child’s schedule.

2. Participate in planning a vacation, trip, or some future event.

3. Practice expressing different emotions and then perceiving emotions on the faces of others.

4. Practice stating aloud the alphabet, but alternate between letters and numbers in a logical order. Any time you can alternate between two distinct categories is a workout for your executive system.

5. Give yourself some free time to imagine and create.

6. Pay attention to ethics and decision making that involves good or poor judgment.

7. Watch how typical personality traits can change with stress, mood, and alcohol. These chemical triggers alter the frontal lobe and can also alter one’s personality for a temporary period of time.

8. Express as many words as you can in 60 seconds that begin with different letters.

9. Draw 30 small circles on the page and write words of different colors under each circle. Then color the circles with a color that is different than the word you wrote under the particular circle. Now, state aloud the color of the circle, not the written word for each of the 30 circles as fast as you can. See how many you can correctly state in 30 seconds.
10. Go to www.Fitbrains.com and play the following games to exercise your executive system:

Good luck with your workout!

Of Mice and Fries

A new study found mice that consumed junk food for nine months demonstrated signs of the abnormal brain tangles typically associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Indeed, a diet rich in fat, sugar, and cholesterol could increase the risk of the most common type of dementia.

The study published by the Karolinska Institute’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center found a chemical change in the brains that were fed the unhealthy diet, not unlike that found in the AD brain.

The researchers suggest a high intake of fat and cholesterol in combination with genetic predisposition can adversely affect several brain substances that may contribute to onset of AD.

The combination of the gene type APOE-4, found in 15 to 20 percent of people and a known risk factor for AD, and the diet rich in fat, sugar and cholesterol led to the abnormal build up of the protein Tau and tangles. Interestingly, the animals also demonstrated reduced levels of another protein called Arc involved in memory storage.

The results offer another hint that AD may be attacked by lifestyle (diet) prior to its onset and progressive damage.

To read the original article, click here

Practical Tips for Improving Language

Language is perhaps the most important cognitive function we possess after memory. An argument can even be made that it is more critical than memory because we need language first to learn or encode any new information. Regardless, there is little doubt that language serves a fundamental neurobiological and psychological need for the human being.

It is common to experience slips in language processing including word finding and name recognition as we enter our forties or fifties. This is normal and probably relates more to stress and being hurried than anything pathologic. Our vocabulary tends to remain fixed which is nice, but we have the ability to grow our library of words at any age. Our verbal fluency or speed of expressing words also slows down with advanced age, but this is not necessarily a problem and may even be of value. Our ability to read and write remains intact, though our ability to comprehend what we read may not be as efficient.

So, what are some practical mental exercises that you can do to boost up your language skills?

1. Reading everyday including the dictionary is one good way to increase your  vocabulary. With an increased vocabulary other parts of language such as word  finding and fluency will improve.

2. Practice reviewing the names of your friends and peers by mentally associating a  name with their face. You can also engage in a fun exercise in which you place  unfamiliar pictures of faces on a table, apply a written name to each and then  repeat each association until you no longer need the written names to recall the  correct name for each face.

3. Take any letter of the alphabet and try and state aloud as many words as you can  that begin with that letter in 60 seconds. With practice you may notice that your  list of  words generated gets longer.

4. Write a short segment on your day’s experience in a journal. This will help your  articulation and emotional skills while practicing the motor skill of writing. Some  research suggests that writing with passion have been known to live a longer  life.

5. Write with a focus on increased ideas per sentence as research suggests this is  good for the brain.

6. Work on your public speaking as this is a wonderful exercise to stimulate the  brain and engage it in a complex, but fun language exercise. Talk about what you  love and your anxiety will be reduced. Most let the anxiety prevent them from  trying!

7. Crossword puzzles are fine as they promote reading and vocabulary. The same is  true for word search games.

8. Name objects that you see on your way to work or the store. Object naming is a  good mental exercise.

9. Work on the art of story telling.

10. FitBrains.com offers some good mental exercises for language. These include

Tips For Improving Memory

Tips for Improving Memory

Our memory helps to shape and define who we are, provide us with comfort, and guide us in our daily lives. While there are many different types of memory we tend to rely primarily on a type of memory that enables us to recall information presented to us either recently or sometime in the distant past.

Memory can be affected by many factors including level of stress, rest, nutrition, medical status, medications, alcohol, exercise, sensory function, hormones, and information processing ability. Common types of memory difficulties include inability to remember names, forgetting directions, forgetting where the car or other object is, and forgetting to complete a task in a specified order.

While it is true that our memory ability tends to decline as we age, a healthy older adult can recall quite well, particularly when given cues and prompts. Memory in late life should not be confused with disease such as Alzheimer’s that can impair memory. Here are some strategies and tips to assist you with your recall on a daily basis regardless of age:

1. Recognize what types of information and situations increase forgetfulness for  you. You may be able to identify particular factors that lead to your memory  problems and a change of these factors might help your recall.

2. Make sure your brain is well rested. You might be surprised to learn that a  fatigued brain will not process as deeply or as efficiently as a well rested brain.

3. Eat brain healthy foods such as fish, fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

4. Information that you need to encode will be recalled better if you repeat the  information to yourself several times.

5. If you have problems remembering names of people you meet continue to use  their names in every sentence when speaking to them. This is a type of normal  repetition that is polite and helpful to your processing.

6. Do not be ashamed to admit to someone that you have forgotten their name and  need to hear it again. Simply tell the person you are bad with names, but you are  trying  and can benefit if they provide his or her name again. At that point, refer  back to point # 5.

7. Lists are fine or small pocket book with cues and prompts can be very useful to  assist your recall.

8. Develop routines and fixed places for placement of items such as car keys. Your  brain will develop a subconscious process to place and retrieve objects with such  routine. This will then free up the conscious part of your brain to learn new

9. Engage in memory exercises such as learning an increasingly larger list of words,  faces on cards, facts such as state capitals, and names of neighborhood family  members.

10. Learn how to relax and remove stress from your life. Memory is directly affected  by chronic stress and you will make mistakes when your brain is stressed.

11. Engage in a regular physical exercise routine as cardiovascular health can  increase learning and memory ability.

FitBrains has several mental exercise games that can assist your memory if you engage in a daily or regular brain fitness routine. Consider the following games by FitBrains for your memory workout:

Good luck and do not forget these memory tips!