Tag Archives: brain training

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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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

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!

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.

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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!

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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!

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Activity and Breast Cancer Survival

pinkribbon.jpgWhile it might seem odd to write about breast cancer on a site dedicated to brain health, there are two compelling reasons to do so: First, many of us have a loved one who has been diagnosed with breast cancer and second, activity is one of the major components of the brain health lifestyle.
A recent study conducted at the Yale School of Medicine indicates women who stay active after being diagnosed with breast cancer have a better chance of surviving the disease. This includes those who take up exercise for the first time after diagnosis and even if the women just do a little exercise. This study reinforces many other studies that link exercise to reduction in risk of breast cancer.
Women who got the equivalent of two to three hours of brisk walking each week in the year before they were diagnosed with breast cancer were 31 percent less likely to die of the disease than women who were sedentary before the diagnosis. Further, two years after diagnosis, women who did any recreational activities at all had nearly 65% lower risk of dying then women who were inactive at that point. Women who got at least two hours of brisk walking in weekly reduced their risk of death by 67%. Perhaps most glaring is the study’s finding that women who decreased their physical activity after diagnosis were actually four times more likely to die of breast cancer than those who remained sedentary.

In all, exercise is an important lifestyle behavior for women undergoing breast cancer treatment.

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