The Male/Female Brain

genders.jpgTalk to the most happily married couples or to the best of friends and they will tell you that sometimes they do not “understand each other,” “he does not listen to me,” or “I just do not understand her.”

If this sounds familiar do not fret as it is to be expected and even normal. The female and male brain is different and the two brains process information differently. The good news is that with some conscious effort communication can be enhanced between the brains and frustrations lowered.

In general, female brains tend to employ both sides of their brain to process information while male brains tend to rely primarily on their dominant or language side to process. As the dominant hemisphere tends to be analytic, problem solving, task oriented, detailed, and verbal this helps to explain male behavior. A female brain can also process in this manner, but the non-dominant hemisphere that can process emotion, meaning without words, empathy, tone, and disposition is also engaged by the female.

Perhaps this helps to explain why females enjoy shopping while most men view it as a chore, women vote differently than males, men and women struggle communicating with each other, and men do not understand psychotherapy. Men tend to be more isolative, less talkative, and focused on solution. Women tend to be more group oriented, more talkative, and focused on the means and not necessarily the ends. This gets played out in the U.S. at this time as women and men tend to view the same debate between candidates differently (men tend to focus on content and women both content and style).

A great question from a male brain to a female brain is “what do you mean” or Am I correct in hearing this…” Female brains can enhance communication from and to the male brain by being explicit in language as male brains may have some difficulty “reading between the lines” or appreciating emotion if it is not declared explicitly.

Once again the good news is that each brain can benefit from the other if we try!

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.

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.

Exercise May Slow Brain Disease

hiking.jpgAnother study has been published that supports a relationship between physical fitness and brain volume. This study explored the rate of brain shrinkage or cell loss in persons with mild Alzheimer’s disease. Subjects had their peak oxygen demand measured while running on a treadmill and this was related to their brain shrinkage as estimated by MRI scan.

Results indicate that those persons suffering AD who were more physically fit had less brain shrinkage than less-fit participants. Curiously, these same persons did not do significantly better on tests for mental performance. The authors suggested that there were not enough participants to see the difference in cognitive performance and that the study used only one measurement point which prohibited demonstration of a conclusion.

However, this study together with other research further underscores an important relationship between blood flow, cardiac health, and brain health (e.g. brain fitness).

Get your tennis shoes on and get moving!

Try the Fit Brains brain games.

Sunshine on the Brain

beach1.jpgThe summer months bring warm weather, blue sky, and plenty of sunshine. For some, if not most, we may notice our mood becomes a bit happier. Is there a relationship between the sunshine and our mood? Probably, but why?

Some studies have reported a relationship between Vitamin D that is derived from sunshine and different physiological measures in the human body. Sunlight has also been related to mood with a disorder known as “Seasonal Affective Disorder” in which those not exposed to enough sunlight can become depressed. Indeed, special lights have been prescribed for those with seasonal affective disorder to help their brains gain more ultraviolet exposure to lift their mood.

Sunshine also tends to come with blue sky, relates to an increased ability to get outside and move about in nature, and to recreate more. Each of these factors is important and is related indirectly to mood enhancement.

It is important to pay attention to your own mood and determine what environmental factors may help you feel happier. If sunshine and blue sky lift your spirits try to prescribe yourself increased time outside. You may feel more energy, higher sense of self and increased productivity.

Take the suntan lotion with you!

Try the Fit Brains brain games.

How about Golf and Brain Health

golfing.jpgBefore all of you jump up and down celebrating another reason to miss work and play 18, let me remind you that this particular blog is speculative with some educated guess mixed in. Having said that, I am happy to for any grant funding to study the effects of playing golf on brain health!

I began to think about the health benefits of golf some time ago, but I grew more interested during a few rounds of the game with my son. As you know, I have proposed and studied five major domains to my brain health lifestyle: these include socialization, mental stimulation (brain fitness, brain games), physical activity, spirituality, and nutrition. Golf certainly includes four of the five components and may include all five.

Golf is a game that is social. In fact, one typically plays the game with another partner and sometimes three other partners. An even more brain healthy opportunity arises when one plays the game alone and is matched with strangers to play the round. This forces a “complex and novel” environment on you that promotes brain health.

Golf is a game that certainly involves physical activity, particularly if you walk and do not ride in a cart. As 25% of the blood from each heartbeat goes to the brain there can be tremendous blood perfusion to the brain during a game of golf. This simply considers the walking and not the swinging and body motion mechanics of the golf swing.

Golf involves mental stimulation in the forms of conversation and story telling with your partners, arithmetic calculations while keeping score which can involve three digits, keeping track of your shots which demands memory, and probably trying to keep track of your partner’s shots so there is no funny business going on. There is also planning, strategy and decision making, judgment, and estimation of distance and space skills involved.

Golf can be a spiritual experience to reduce stress, have fun, slow down, and enjoy nature. Golf courses tend to provide nice scenery and a pleasant surrounding. Golf provides you an opportunity to reflect and to set priorities.

Finally, Golf can include good nutrition if the proper foods and beverages are selected before, during, and after the game. Fruits, vegetables, and fish are always great items in a brain health diet.

I believe golf is a natural activity that provides many aspects of the brain health lifestyle I have discussed and written about. So long as one does not let a poor shot or poor score raise his or her stress level too much!

Hit the links, it might just be good for your brain!

Try the Fit Brains brain games.