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

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.

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.

Try the Fit Brains brain games.

Brain Tips for the Summer Months

summer.jpgThe summer months provide a great opportunity to review the health of your brain and to get started following some of the simple steps articulated in Dr. Nussbaum’s Brain Health Lifestyle. You will soon be on your way to building brain reserve, promoting your own brain health, and enhancing your brain’s ability to delay the onset of neurodegenerative disease.

1. Get Moving!

Research indicates that daily walking, aerobic exercise several times a week, dance, gardening, and knitting all have a positive effect on the brain. It is important to note that 25% of the blood and nutrients from each heartbeat goes directly to your brain. In contrast, passivity in midlife increases the risk of dementia later in life. Get your pedometer and start moving, shaking, and planting!

2. Improve Those Eating Habits

Summer finds us on the go between events and the many activities of our children. We develop routines of eating more and more fast food and less time sitting down to eat with the family. It is important to try and promote the following:

A. Consume more water on a daily basis
B. Push the fruit and veggies
C. Minimize the fast food and processed foods
D. Try to consume more fish
E. Eat with utensils and not your fingers and you will eat less and healthier
F. Try to eat seated meal with the family per day

3. Develop a New Hobby or Two

Mental stimulation (e.g. brain fitness, brain games) remains important in the summer months. Get started on that project or activity/hobby you have been resisting. Challenge your brain to develop a new talent or skill this summer. Your brain will thank you!

4. Take Time to Slow Down

Summer can be a time of too much activity. This is not good for the brain as stress can be health demoting. Give yourself 30 minutes every day to do nothing. Learn to turn inward through meditation, prayer, being in nature, or simply taking a walk. Having time to just exist can be very rewarding and a great opportunity for creativity.

5. Have Fun with Others

Socialization is a great thing for the brain as it provides interpersonal chemistry, sharing of ideas, laughter, and learning. Recreation and family functions or adult play can be important to reduce stress and promote happiness.

Try the Fit Brains brain games.