Train Your Brain On National Dunce Day!

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In honor of National Dunce day we bring you a bit of history about the term “dunce,” and we implore you not to be one.  Dunce day is named for Duns Scotus, a medieval scholar from Scotland, who believed that wearing a cone shaped hat increased one’s learning potential.  The idea was that knowledge would flow from the tip of the hat down into the brain.  Not surprisingly, the idea didn’t really catch on (though it would be pretty great if it actually was this easy to learn new things), and anyone wearing the “dunce cap” was in turn called a “dunce” (and it wasn’t anymore positive then than it is now).

Now, you can choose to either celebrate Dunce day by celebrating stupidity, or you can honor it as a day of improving your brain through brain training.  (We’d offer up a list of stupid things you can do if you choose the former, but we’re afraid that will land us in a heap of trouble so you’re on your own if you go that route.)  

Instead, on this day we want to motivate you to hearken back to the original intentions of Duns Scotus and set aside some time to try and better yourself and train your brain for better health and wellness.  Read a book, train your brain with Fit Brains fun brain games, play some chess, find something that speaks to you today, which can also boost your intellect and your brain health!

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Brain Train Your Way to Better Performance: The FINGER Study

According to a recent study published in the journal The Lancet (March 2015) brain training, exercise, healthy eating and management of risk factors seems to maintain or improve cognitive function and delay cognitive decline.  The Finnish Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER) is the first of its’ kind, ground breaking trial to combat some of the key high risk factors for dementia (eg. Heart health, high BMI).

Method

1260 Finns aged 60-77 were randomly divided equally between the control group who were given general health tips and the intervention group.  The latter had regular meetings with healthcare professionals and were given comprehensive guidance on healthy eating, exercise programs, brain training and managing metabolic and vascular risk factors, for example, with regular blood exams.

Findings

After 2 years, the participants’ cognitive performance was assessed with a standard exam, the Neuropsychological Test Battery (NTB).  The overall scores for the intervention group were higher by 25%.  The remarkable results for certain sections of the exam, processing speed at 150% and executive functioning at 83% were even higher.  Executive function refers to the brain’s capacity to manage, plan and execute thought processes.

“Much previous research has shown that there are links between cognitive decline in older people and factors such as diet, heart health, and fitness. However, our study is the first large randomised controlled trial to show that an intensive program aimed at addressing these risk factors might be able to prevent cognitive decline in elderly people who are at risk of dementia.” Professor Kivipelto, lead Researcher – Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, and University of Eastern Finland

Train & Play with Fit Brains

Your brain is like a muscle, it can grow fitter and stronger with exercise. Train and play with Fit Brains. Fit Brains exercises help stimulate and entertain your mind. You can play Fit Brains on any web browser or train or train on-the-go with our IOS, Android or Amazon app!   

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Journal Reference

Tiia Ngandu, Jenni Lehtisalo, Alina Solomon, Esko Levälahti, Satu Ahtiluoto, Riitta Antikainen, Lars Bäckman, Tuomo Hänninen, Antti Jula, Tiina Laatikainen, Jaana Lindström, Francesca Mangialasche, Teemu Paajanen, Satu Pajala, Markku Peltonen, Rainer Rauramaa, Anna Stigsdotter-Neely, Timo Strandberg, Jaakko Tuomilehto, Hilkka Soininen, Miia Kivipelto. A 2 year multidomain intervention of diet, exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk monitoring versus control to prevent cognitive decline in at-risk elderly people (FINGER): a randomised controlled trialThe Lancet, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60461-5

Obesity and a Happy Brain

Brain HealthAs most of us get into middle age we might take special notice of our body’s ability to keep a few extra pounds around the waist. Most of us understand the importance of eating healthy and the disease risk associated with extra weight around the belly.

Recent research suggests the brain’s ability to sense gratification may be critical to overeating behavior. We may have a gene that assists us with knowing when we are filled after eating. Research now indicates that a brain that does not express satiation will lead to continued eating and increased risk of obesity.

We know that a healthy diet and regular exercise are very important for maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding obesity. However, genetics also plays a role in which an important neurochemical, Dopamine, may play a critical role. Dopamine is the primary neurochemical that regulates our pleasure sensation.

Eating temporarily boosts dopamine levels, but obesity may be associated with fewer Dopamine receptors which lead to less sensation of pleasure with eating. Research now suggests that the brain regions important to Dopamine expression when eating treats such as a milkshake does not get activated in those who are obese.

Interestingly, Dopamine has been studied as a primary mechanism for addiction and impulsive behavior including eating. Attempts are underway to try and understand how Dopamine might be triggered even in obesity to reduce impulsive eating so as to reduce gaining more weight. To read more about Dopamine, click here

Brain Tips For Those Winter Months

snowflakes.jpgIt is important to point out that I am not a fan of the winter season. In fact, I dread it and would rather be on a beach somewhere! However, regardless of my personal stuff, it is important to keep our brains active and engaged in the brain health lifestyle regardless of the season.
For some, the winter season does not represent a change in the options available to follow the brain health lifestyle. If you live in a part of the world where the sun continues to shine throughout the year keep your brain health lifestyle active over the 12 months. For those of us who actually see snow our options to venture outside may be limited at times.
Winter can be a time of increased stress and simultaneously a time for creativity and increased family time. Consider the following ideas for brain health this winter:

  1. Save your pennies and get a family membership to a gym or exercise club. Set up the family schedule for exercising together and use the gym as the snow may keep you inside at times.
  2. Break out the skis and get some exercise from this sport. Cross country skiing is also a great physical exercise.
  3. Try to walk in the snow if it is not dangerous.
  4. Break out the board games and have a family game night. This includes some family fun with Fit Brains brain games.
  5. Try to have winter as a time for getting your brain health diet started. Have a family member pick a night to help cook a brain health dinner.
  6. Have some friends and family over once a week.
  7. Start a family book club in which each family member will read one or two books during the three months of winter.
  8. Try to reduce driving in dangerous conditions during the winter as this will reduce your stress.
  9. When the sun does surface, get outside as you will benefit from the Vitamin D.
  10. Take a day or two and get the family together to make a snowman or go sled riding (wear a helmet).

While the winter can limit our opportunities for brain health, it also offers us a time to be creative and to increase family experiences.

Try the Fit Brains brain games.

Economic Anxiety and our Health

economy.jpgThe world economic situation is fertile ground for anxiety, some realistic and other perpetuated from misinformation and personal agendas. It is important to take some time to consider the following as methods for coping with these uncertain times:

  • 1. Information and knowledge will help to reduce anxiety, even when the information is not positive. Most of us experience anxiety or unease when we are confronted with uncertainty. As such, it is a good idea to spend some time researching the economic issues (stock market, credit, employment, etc) from a variety of viewpoints. You may have noticed that reading and predicting the economy is not a science, but for those in the stock market, there are predictable patterns based on many years of past behavior. This should provide some certainty even though the present represents a turbulent time.
  • 2. Meet with your financial planner to review all investments and liabilities. He or she will help you reduce your risk and loss while planning appropriately for the near and long term future.
  • 3. Have a family meeting to discuss the issues and to provide a forum to express fears and hopes. Make a family plan that adapts spending and saving to the current market demands.
  • 4. Place a focus on your emotional condition and make an extra effort to exercise and eat healthy. This will enable your body to handle the stress better.
  • 5. This is a great time to use relaxation procedures such as breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Meditation is also a good daily activity.
  • 6. Have faith in our human innovative and adaptive nature and believe that we will survive this period of uncertainty.
  • 7. Reach out to others who may be in a particularly difficult situation and offer them your time and friendship.

Try the Fit Brains brain games.

Brain Better than Calculator

books.jpgI have the wonderful opportunity of traveling the nation and internationally to speak about the wonderful miracle of the human brain. During my public presentations I always describe the brain as the most complicated, integrated, and miraculous system ever designed in the history of the Universe! I then scream from the mountaintops that we need to understand that our greatest moments of innovation, creativity, cures for illness, and ability to communicate in ways we only dream about now will be accomplished by learning how to tap into the greatness of our brain!

It is from this context that I read my local newspaper to find the following headline “Brains beat buttons for learning mathematics.” New research finds that third graders learn multiplication better when they use their brains before they use a calculator. The results of this study can be found in the next issue of the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology and the article is published in The Pittsburgh Tribune Review (Sept 4, 2008).

We have known for some time that learning is enhanced when the person doing the learning “does it on his or her own.” This is another way of saying “uses his or her brain.” We also know that the more one is exposed to a particular stimulus the more deeply they will remember or encode it. This again reflects the ability and efficiency of the human brain. The calculator is an external device that appears to have a secondary and reinforcing purpose to what the brain has already learned.

From a brain health perspective, we as a society will be better off when we use our brains first and rely on technological devices (invented by the human brain) in secondary roles. The former involves stimulation of the cortex that will develop brain reserve. A reliance on technologies such as a calculator will cause the brain to use the subcortex which is more rote, passive and procedural in its processing.

By using our cortex in complex pursuits we will always be on a path to brain health (brain fitness, brain games). Reliance on passive behaviors such as using a calculator will put us on a path to rote processing with less health benefit.

So… tonight I will remind my sons to use their brain first to solve the math homework as I have a personal interest in their learning and in their brain health!

Try the Fit Brains brain games.

Brain Health in our Home

couch.jpgBrain health can occur wherever brains exist! The home is a setting that is often neglected regarding brain health. Ask yourself the question….is my home a setting for brain health?

Turning to Dr. Nussbaum’s brain health lifestyle we know there are five factors or slices of the brain health pie. These include (1) socialization, (2) physical activity, (3) mental stimulation, (4) nutrition, and (5) spirituality. You can apply the activities within each of these brain health slices in your home and a brain health residence will be born.

Consider the following brain health for the home tips:

1. Increase the number of social events in your home. This includes meetings, parties, and simply having friends or family over. Remember brain health is a lifespan issue so all age groups need a little attention and love (Socialization).

2. Increase the number of meals that include fish (salmon, herring, sardines), unsalted nuts including walnuts, fruits and vegetables. Eat at least one meal a day when the family and friends sit down and spend quality time together. Eating with utensils also promotes healthier food consumption and less caloric intake (Nutrition).

3. Get the family on a regular exercise program that includes daily walks, some form of aerobic exercise, dance, gardening and even knitting. You want to promote physical activity and increased cardiovascular activity (Physical Activity).

4. Have everyone in the family engage in mental exercise on a daily basis. This should involve something that is novel and complex (not passive and rote). Play a family board game, complete a Fit Brains game online, write a short story, talk and debate world affairs and even take a trip as a family to a new area of your region (Mental Stimulation).

5. Make sure the family is getting plenty of sleep, take time to slow down and simply have time to be rather than to complete some task. Relaxation procedures, meditation, prayer and yoga can help slow the world down. Give yourself 30 minutes a day to do what you want. Remove some of the stress from your life (Spirituality).

These are some simple tips for turning your own home into a brain health residence!

Try the Fit Brains brain games.