Category Archives: General Information

Thanksgiving Holiday: Avoiding the Stressful Trap

As I provide my talks on brain health and lifestyle across the nation I spend some time talking about the importance of socialization to brain health. This includes remaining integrated in society, defining a role and purpose to your time, and building strong family and friendship networks. The latter point is the one that is perhaps most difficult for us as we all have tension in one or more relationships and these relationships are often within the family.

I often offer audience members the idea of teaching the next psychopathology class at the local university with me. I let them know that Thanksgiving is a wonderful real world laboratory to observe and experience plenty of family/friend based tension to talk about during the class!

On a more serious note, Thanksgiving Holiday is a wonderful time to be with family and friends, reflect on all we have, and pray for those who are hurting or alone. This is only true, however, if we permit our experience of this holiday to be positive and to avoid the many traps of stress and tension that exist on this wonderful Thursday each November.

One key to achieving the positive outcome with Thanksgiving is to keep your focus on the larger picture and refrain from the small stuff. Enjoy the time with your family and pay attention to the effort made to provide a nice meal. Listen to the stories and simply look at those around you. What if this was your last Thanksgiving? Go overboard with the praise and thanks to those who provide the meal and open their home to you. Have the courage to tell everyone there something positive, especially to those where the tension exists. Think about those who may not be able to be there with you and let everyone know you are thinking of them. Praise our veterans who are many miles away from home on this day. Above all, give thanks for the opportunity to enjoy this great day.

Some research indicates our brains’ electrical activity is generated in the front left region when we have positive and hopeful thoughts. Similar activity is generated in the right front region when we are nervous or anxious, stressed, and perhaps negative in our thinking. The key to Thanksgiving is to focus on the positive, get the left front region of your brain busy, and enjoy the good feelings that will emerge.

Stay with the big picture of the day and do not focus on the small stuff!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Back to School Brain Health Tips

Summer vacation for the millions of children around the world is coming to an end and soon school will begin. For some children this is exciting news while others do not want to hear it!

As families get closer to the big first day of school consideration may be given to the following tips to create a home environment that not only stimulates learning, but promotes brain health:

1.    Get a good night sleep and develop a routine for sleep.

Sleep is critical to the developing brain, to consolidation of new information, and     to the brain getting the deep sleep it needs to be prepared to learn.

2.    Eat a good breakfast.

Try to get to be early so you can get up early and have time to eat. Eating a good     breakfast relates to better learning and to energy production for the child.

3.    Exercise.

Encourage your child to be physically active in sports, walking, exercise, and dance.     Movement and exercise relates to brain health and to better learning.

4.    Have Quiet Time.

Provide 20-30 minutes of down time for the child to simply reflect on the day’s     event without any task to complete. The brain does well without constant stress or     activity. Relaxation and breathing techniques can help.

5.    Structure Screen Time.

Many youth are drawn to the cell phone, television, computer, etc as means of     socialization. During the school year it is important to control the amount of time     the child’s brain is involved with a screen as this will prevent time studying,     recreating, or relaxing. Consider providing your child with one hour a day of     screen time and let the child decide how to use his or her 60 minutes. This will     give them a sense of control and obligation to focus on school work, chores, etc     the other time.

6.    Recreate and have Fun.

After a hard day of school or work it is important to let the brain escape and have     some fun. The child will likely benefit from a little fun after school and prior to     re-engagement with studies later in the evening. This may not be the best     approach for some children who need to complete their studies immediately after     school and then go recreate. It is important to monitor your child’s behavior to     know which is best. Regardless, the brain needs relief for some period of time     regardless of age.

7.    Eat more Brain Healthy Foods.

Try to encourage your child to eat fish more often, to consume more fruits and     vegetables, and to eat less fast food, and processed foods.

8.    Promote Family Time.

Try to create a nightly time to have the family talk about their day as this will     promote communication skills, family relations, and problem solving as the entire     family     can celebrate good news and help those who may have had a difficult day.

9.    Organize and Plan

Help to teach your child how to organize their “stuff” and get prepared for the     school day the night before. This can help to save valuable minutes that will     prevent racing to the school bus while not eating. Also, help the child organize     their studies so he or she develops a strategic approach to their class demands and     homework. This is not easy, but getting started early can only help.

10.    Celebrate and Keep Perspective.

It is important to celebrate the small and big achievements of children. The     positive reinforcement helps to repeat performances and provides a joyous time in     the home. Keep perspective during the tough times and encourage the importance     of learning from success and from failure. This will lay the foundation for similar     experiences across the lifespan.

Have a great school year!

Happiness comes with Age?

Hopefully you are already a happy and joyful person. Life can certainly place challenges to happiness and sometimes we consider advanced age to be anything but happy. However, a new study based on a telephone survey of 340,000 people nationwide between age 18 and 85 found that we tend to get happier as we get older!

The survey asked about global well being by asking each person to rate overall life satisfaction between one and ten. Results published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people were quite satisfied with themselves by the time they were 85 especially when compared to when they were 18. The tendency to rate happiness lower in the 20s and 30s began to reverse in the 50s.

Emotions of stress, anger, and worry decline beginning in the 20s and more significantly in the 50s onward. Sadness rises to a peak at 50 then declines to 73 and rises again slightly to 85. Enjoyment and happiness both decrease gradually until our 50s then rise steadily for the next 25 years and decline again, but not as much as the low point in our early 50s.

The study did not try to understand what makes people happy, but there is a relationship between getting older and happiness. Not bad!

Summertime a Good Time for Brain Health

With warm weather and the summer season upon us it is a good time to consider all the benefits this sunny season provides for brain health:

1.    Increased exposure to the sun comes with Vitamin D which is good for the body     and brain.

2.    We can increase our mobility by getting outside to walk, play, swim, and run.

3.    Socialization can increase as more people commune to the outdoors.

4.    Exercise routines can become more routine and more diverse.

5.    We can enjoy nature and slow our world down thereby decreasing stress.

6.    We can increase our water consumption and reduce calories.

7.    Our moods can get a bit happier with blue sky.

8.    We may sleep better with increased physical activity.

9.    We can garden and do chores in the yard.

10.    We may be able to spend more time with the family.

So have fun this summer and enjoy all the brain benefits.


Kids Spending more time with Media and Mobile Gadgets

A recent survey of children’s utilization of mass media technology, cell phone, computers and television indicates the amount of time allocated to these devices has increased to over 7 hours daily. This does not include time multitasking when children will use more than one device at a time.

Research on behavioral correlates of such behavior is not conclusive, but there are studies that suggest a relationship between obesity, behavioral issues, and even some problems with interpersonal skills and time spent engaged in such pursuits.

The major question is what effect will increased time spent using digital media activity have on the behavior and brains of children over time. Research does indicate a relationship between passive pursuits and dementia later in life. Research also indicates too much stimulation can retard brain development. These represent the critical questions to be explored and answered in the near future. More studies are being done and are needed to determine what the short term and long term effects are on children.

It is important to remain open minded yet critical about both the negative and positive effects of children using and relying on the cell phone and other devices to socialize, interact, and stimulate mentally. The evolution of such technology has already found the youth of the world and they are more reliant and comfortable with it than previous generations. This evolution cannot be stopped and it probably should not. It is important for society to integrate this new way of living in healthy ways.

Brainy Cities

A recent article in US News discussed the brain health of all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the United States. An index that was comprised of diet (36%), physical health (25%), mental health (24%), and social well being (15%) was used to compare the states. Data was gathered from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Health, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Results from the study revealed the following top ten brainiest cities:

1.    Washington DC
2.    Maryland
3.    Washington State
4.    Vermont
5.    Connecticut
6.    Colorado
7.    Massachusetts
8.    New Jersey
9.    Maine
10.  New Hampshire

It is important to be proactive in your brain health lifestyle. Dr. Nussbaum (www.paulnussbaum.com), Chief Scientific Officer for Fitbrains, Inc. underscores the importance of a brain health lifestyle that includes socialization, nutrition, physical activity, mental stimulation, and spirituality.

Internet and Brain Health

A recent study demonstrates daily surfing of the internet activates the brain of older persons. This is another example of how the environment in many forms can shape the brain and illustrates the power of neural plasticity.

24 neurologically healthy adults, aged 55 to 78, surfed the internet while their brains were being scanned by an MRI machine. Prior to the study, half the participants had used the internet daily while the other half had minimal experience. After the initial MRI scan, the participants were instructed to do internet searches for an hour a day for seven days in the next two weeks. Then they returned to the clinic for another MRI.

At baseline, those who had internet experience had much greater brain activation relative to those without internet experience. However, those who practiced on the internet during the study demonstrated significant activation in their brain to the point that they were nearly equal to the brains of the experienced internet users.

The idea of “use it or lose it” can really be taken a step further and the idea is to “use it in new ways” and novelty and complexity really is the foundation to brain health.