Tag Archives: brain fitness

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.

Federal Government and Alzheimer’s Disease

I read with great interest that the United States federal government is considering a plan that provides effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease by 2025. Such a national strategy is desperately needed and long overdue. It is well known that Alzheimer’s disease, the leading cause of progressive dementia, will increase significantly from the 5.4 million persons affected today to over 15 million by the middle of this century.

The nation already expends nearly 200 billion dollars annually in the care of those with Alzheimer’s disease and there are nearly 15 million caregivers who are directly or indirectly affected by the disease. Indeed, our entire society is affected and the national strategy is an important step. Former Speaker Gingrich has talked openly about the need for the neurosciences to be a major source of innovation for the health of the brain and I hope other politicians help to make this a reality. The Obama Administration is developing the first National Alzheimer’s Plan to address the medical and social problems of dementia. This plan is not just for treatment, but also for better daily care for dementia patients and their caregivers.

Among the major goals of the plan are to:

  1. Begin a national public awareness campaign of dementia’s early-warning signs to improve early diagnosis.
  2. Give primary care doctors the tools assess signs of dementia as part of Medicare’s annual checkup.
  3. Have caregiver’s physical and mental health regularly checked.
  4. Improve care planning and training for families, so they know what resources are available for their loved one and for themselves.

These are important and necessary goals for inclusion in any national plan. However, they are not comprehensive which is what is needed. Some critics of the plan argue that the government is not being bold enough. My suggestions for a more comprehensive plan would include the following additional goals:

  1. Teach the basics of the human brain to every middle school student in order to develop personal investment in the workings of the brain and how to keep the brain healthy.
  2. Promote and prioritize a brain health lifestyle ® using the latest research on what we can do individually and as a society to live a proactive and lifelong lifestyle that promotes the health of the brain.
  3. Understand that diseases the manifest late in life begin early in life. We need to consider early nonmedical interventions such as education, diet, spirituality, mental stimulation, and socialization tools that begin when a baby is developing in the womb.
  4. Create tax benefits for families who care for their loved ones or pay for others to care for them in the person’s home.
  5. Create a chronic care system for older adults that understands chronic care is not the same as acute care and that hospitals are actually not a healthy place for older adults to be admitted.
  6. Incentive medical doctors and other health care professionals to become specialized in geriatrics and to promote “primary care status” to the geriatrician.
  7. Include brain health lifestyle ® within every wellness program and incentive all persons to live such a lifestyle.
  8. Develop annual standardized assessments for persons to undergo to measure the health and functioning of their brain. The brain should be treated as a priority rather than continue to be neglected in our culture.
  9. Revise the antiquated and outdated nursing home model of care.
  10. Increase the funding for dementia care, lifestyle approach, and caregiver programs sufficient to achieve success much earlier than 2025.

Christmas, the Holiday Season, and World Peace

It is too easy to turn the television or internet on and witness humans across the globe behaving with violence and harm towards others. This stands in direct contradiction to what Christmas and the Holiday season represents. It is hard to imagine what drives someone or a group of people to attack others. Peace is a noble goal worth pursuing and Peace on Earth is what Christmas and the Holiday season are about.

Peace begins internally by cleaning out our own ill will and negativity. We can literally engage in mental exercises by thinking positive thoughts and feeling positive emotions. This stimulates the left frontal region of our brain and can leave us feeling balanced and peaceful. We can then work with others to try and sway their thinking and behavior towards unity and away from conflict. War, death, and violence are no recipe for progress of the human race.

This is a special week for many across the planet, one that provides the ingredients of love, joy, and peace that can unite us. We are one race and we live on one planet. We have much more in common than we differ. My hope is that we begin to treat one another with greater respect, attending to our similarities and common ground, and to refrain from the impulsive actions or reactions that can lead to harm.

World peace is indeed a noble goal and one that is actually within our control. It begins with everyone taking some time to develop inner peace despite the fact we live in a fast and imperfect society. Treat one another with love and respect and keep in mind what Christmas and the Holiday season represent.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday to all.

Giving Thanks at Thanksgiving

The annual holiday known as Thanksgiving is upon us here in the United States. This is a day of great food, family, friends, cheer, football, and being together with those we love. It is also a day of thanks and it is important to reflect on all that we have and the many blessings in our lives.

Thanksgiving is a time to praise the great men and women in our current and past military. Their sacrifice is beyond what we can imagine. The families of those who serve in the military also are deserving of our gratitude. We should take time to thank our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. They most likely have sacrificed much to help the next generation in the family.

While many of us may be experiencing personal financial distress because of a chronic economic downturn, we can still use Thanksgiving to recognize the areas of our lives that may be positive. Health is always one of the most important blessings we need to recognize. Being thankful for our own health and for the health of our family is important. Having the ability to be together with those that you love is another blessing worthy of our attention.

Prayers for those less fortunate, for those in the military, and for those in need can be beneficial to all of us. Simply taking some time on Thanksgiving to enjoy the moment and to enjoy those who have gathered while leaving any anxiety behind can help to make your Holiday a positive one.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Meditation Improves Immune System

Meditation is best known as part of the Buddhist and Indian Yoga traditions. It has now migrated and become more integrated into western civilization including the United States. Research has supported a relationship between meditation practice and positive health outcomes.

A recent study suggests that mindfulness meditation can promote health and cognitive function. The study, published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science indicates benefits for improved immune function, reduced blood pressure, and enhanced cognitive function. The authors also explain the way mindfulness helps with our health.

Four key factors of mindfulness are proposed as important to our health: (1) attention regulation; (2) body awareness; (3) emotion regulation; (4) and sense of self. When integrated, these four factors may help with alleviation of stress.

Health and The Daily Meal

Socialization and mental stimulation are two of the five major components of my brain health lifestyle ® (see www.paulnussbaum.com). One practical tip I have advocated is having one meal a day with the family, friends, or even with new people. I believe this activity is not only social, it promotes story telling, communication, listening to music, use of utensils to consume healthy foods, and slowing down. One activity provides socialization, mental stimulation, nutrition, and even spirituality. Four of the five major components of my brain health lifestyle ® are accomplished with one 45 to 60 minute activity!

It was with great enthusiasm that I read an article in my local newspaper yesterday that outlined a new study detailing the benefits of eating a daily meal with the family. The benefits were particularly important to the emotional and cognitive health of children. The study was published in the American Journal of Pediatrics and supports the health benefits of a non-medical behavioral ritual of our society. The critical point is that we need to work to create and to respect the daily meal and to not let our “busy lives” interfere with this important and necessary daily tradition.

More Research on Lifestyle and Risk Reduction in Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

For the past decade or more I have advanced the idea that a proactive lifestyle can be beneficial to the human brain. I have not been the only one to discuss or study this point, but it remains a central focus of my work. There has been a rather robust collection of studies that have shown correlations between particular lifestyle behaviors and reduction in the risk of dementia. It was from these studies that I published my own proactive brain health lifestyle ® to include physical activity, socialization, spirituality, nutrition, and mental stimulation.

Criticism against the existing research on lifestyle and risk reduction of dementia has generally been that more controlled and randomized studies are needed to move from the correlational to the cause and effect. This is fair and represents ongoing efforts by many to show such a cause and effect. Lifestyle does matter for the brain as it does for the rest of our body.

A new study to be published in Lancet Neurology provides the latest support for lifestyle and reduction in risk of dementia, including AD. Indeed, according to this study, about half of the risk factors for AD are potentially changeable and that reducing them could substantially decrease the number of new cases of the disease worldwide.

Factors that increase one’s risk for AD that are modifiable include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, smoking, sedentary behavior, depression, and low education level. In the United States, the most significant modifiable factor is physical activity accounting for 21% of the risk for AD, followed by depression and smoking. Added together, the three factors account for 50% of the risk.

The authors of this study indicate that if these risk factors were decreased by just 10%, about 184,000 AD cases in the U.S. and 1.1 million cases worldwide could be prevented. A reduction of 25% on all seven risk factors could prevent nearly half a million cases in the U.S. and more than three million world-wide.

With 5 million cases of AD in the U.S. and nearly 35 million in the world, this analysis is significant as maybe as many as 50% of all AD cases could be modifiable and that by changing the risk factors increased quality of life could be achieved. This and more research will be published to further support the importance of a proactive brain health lifestyle for everyone.