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Showing posts from 2017

Vegetables & Video Games

In our last post, we discussed the research about the cognition benefit from playing Super Mario. New research qualifies the kind of games that might help. Not all will.

Kind of Good News About Video Games A large study (2,800+ participants) performed by researchers from Indiana University, South Florida University of South Florida and Penn State University tracked individuals over 10 years. Participant groups received memory, reasoning, or speed of processing training, or were part of a control group. If you’ve had a vision study at your ophthalmologist, you’ve done something like the speed of processing video game used in the study. To play, you must spot something, such as a highway sign on a roadway, and then spot something else in the periphery. The faster you identify and click on the objects, the better you score. As the game proceeds, the background becomes more complex making it harder to find the images. The good news: participants playing that type of game had a 29% lower i…

Play Super Mario; Build a Big Brain

This brain builder is so good that we are quoting the title as published in a prestigious scientific journal: “Playing Super Mario 64 increases hippocampal grey matter in older adults.” It seems that some researchers from Montreal and St. John’s Newfoundland have nothing better to do than play video games. Well, not exactly. Gregory L. West, PhD and Benjamin Rich Zendel PhD, put together a research team to see if the brains of older adults would benefit from playing video games and, if so, exactly how.

The team from the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland and from the Centre de Researche en Neurologie et Cognition at the University of Montreal, recruited 33 adults from ages 55 to 75. They used the standard test method with a control group and subject groups. The control group continued their normal activities. A second group took self-directed piano lessons (as we’ve covered before, research shows notable brain growth from learning to play a musical instrument)…

Do These Two Things: Have a Bigger Better Brain

Get Married; Have a Better Brain Married couples have a significantly lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease than single individuals. We didn’t see that finding coming.  A research paper in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry reported that singles had a 42% higher risk of dementia than couples. Widowed had an average of 20% higher. Curiously, divorced individuals had the same risk as married. Andrew Sommerlad, MD of the University of London, along with fellow researchers Joshua Ruegger and Archana Singh-Manoux MD, speculate that the benefit comes from social contact, communication, looking-out for each other and more mental activity. (We’ve written before on the extreme detriment of loneliness on health in general and brain health in particular). We’re speculating that the punch line is to get married if you’re not….
Build Up Endurance; Build Better Working Memory We were recently explaining to someone that one of the reasons that biological medicines are so expensive is t…

You Are Outsourcing Your Brain & It Might Be a Bad Idea

Middle-age spread associated with Alzheimer’s, and why Google may be bad for your brain.

The News About Fat Just Keeps Getting Worse The Journal of Alzheimer’s and Dementia reported the results of a study on fat as an Alzheimer’s factor. This very large study-1.3 million subjects- reviewed data comparing Body Mass Index (BMI) to incurrence of dementia. BMI measures the relationship between height and weight. The finding was stark and severe: being over-weight at middle age increases the risk of dementia later in life. The study was performed by a highly-respected research team, led by Psychology Professor Mika Kivimaki at University College London and Ritva Luukkonen from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Helsinki and included experts from throughout Europe. Study details here. Consumer safety tip: it contains math you didn’t see in high school. Is Google Shrinking Your Brain? Frank Gunn-Moore is a professor at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, a…

Shampoo Your Brain: Lather, Rinse, Repeat Every 24 Hours

While you sleep, your glymphatic system shampoos your brain. It gives it a good cleaning and eliminates any toxins or bad stuff that has managed to slip in. Of course, your brain is performing an endless number of other functions as well. But the cleaning function is different in that it only is performed while you sleep. And if you don’t sleep enough, well, you’re trying to do your waking tasks with a clogged-up, messy, dirty brain. It is possible- although speculative at this point- that there may be a link between inadequate sleep and Alzheimer’s disease. Enough’ s Enough How much sleep do you need? We came across a newsletter from the Cleveland Clinic with some information on appropriate amounts of sleep that referenced guidelines from a variety of sources including National Sleep Foundation, American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Obviously, infants and babies sleep most of the time, furthermore, they need to. Toddlers (ages 1-3) need 12-14 hour…

Read a Novel: Grow Your Brain!

When’s the last time you read a novel? When’s the last time you read one and really thought about it? If you answered college, or even high school, you may want to pick up a best seller, and maybe a classic too.
Research from Emory University’s Center for Neuropolicy As we follow research on how to not just maintain a healthy brain, but to grow a bigger one, sometimes we find ourselves surprised. This is one of those situations. We found some research on how reading novels may improve our brains, which made us happy because all of us at Big Brain Place love to read. Gregory Berns, MD, PhD led team of researchers at Emory University who studied the effect of reading a novel on the brain. Dr. Berns, as well as other members of the team, are experts in MRI technology. The scientists established baseline MRI observations for the group of test participants. Then the participants read a section of a novel each day. On the following day, they got an MRI. That process continued until they com…

Let's Get Sweaty Baby

She Blinded Me With Science made it to No. 8 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1982. It was written and recorded by Thomas Dolby, whose real name was Thomas Robertson. Robertson had become so skilled with recording equipment and the like that his friends nicknamed him Dolby, for the rather more famous noise reduction and sound reproduction company Dolby Laboratories.

Brain Science This post is pretty “sciency”, hence that introduction. Three brain factoids to set the stage: ·One part of the brain is the hippocampus, which we’ve mentioned in previous blog posts. It is part of the limbic system and plays an essential part in the formation of new memories and is involved in learning. ·Neuroplasticity is a term that means that the brain can change-or be “plastic” into adulthood. One of the most important things we’ve learned in recent times is that the brain is “plastic” in adulthood. That is, it can grow, remain healthy, make new nerve connections and so on. Not that long ago, the prevailing theo…

Get REM Sleep; Manage Fear

A good night’s sleep may help you manage fear and risks better.

A study just posted in Journal of Neuroscience describes the importance of a good night’s sleep to controlling strong emotions, especially fear. Previous studies in this area attempted to discover what happens in the brain after a frightful experience.  These prior studies, for example, show how Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects sleep. A team at the Rutgers University Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, led by Itamar Lerner, has taken a different approach. They wanted to see if there is a relationship between adequate sleep and prevention or management of the brain’s reaction to subsequent stressful events. Research Team Lerner is a Postdoctoral Fellow in sleep research. Along with fellow researchers Neha Sinha-also doing Postdoctoral research-in her case in brain imaging, Shira Lupkin and Alan Tsai, they used new technology that allows mobile tracking of sleep habits over a period of time, not j…

Sugary Drinks, Diet Soda & Your Brain

Soda can make you stupid, or worse.
Sometimes we find research reports on brain health that are sobering. There was a rather spooky one we just read. But we also discovered one that is positive. Here’s the tough medicine first. Artificial Sweeteners May Be Bad For You Here’s the punch line: “Daily diet soda drinkers three times more likely to develop stroke and dementia compared to those who don’t”. You might have seen that headline before. It drew a lot of publicity. Now, remember your statistics class: correlation doesn’t mean causation. Just because the years that skirt hemlines go up are also years that the stock market goes up doesn’t mean short skirts cause the stock prices to increase. It could be that other things diet soda drinkers do – or don’t do- is the reason they are more likely to have a stroke or get dementia. Here’s a link to a summary of the research if you want to read more. The research was done by a team from Boston University, led by a professor of neurology. They us…

Will Working Puzzles and Playing Strategy Games Preserve Your Brain?

If you do it right, puzzles and games might just save your brain. There are millions of players of strategy games, memory games, word games and puzzles. They want to know that working crosswords, solving sudoku, playing bridge, mahjong or chess will help preserve mental acuity. Some are counting on it.

Cognitive Reserve Cognitive reserve is the term developed after researchers found instances of examination of the brains of individuals that showed signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but, while alive, the individual had exhibited no signs of dementia.  We want to build cognitive reserve, and there is evidence that puzzles can do that. One key-and positive-study from 2011 found that solving crossword puzzles delayed onset of memory loss by 2.5 years, and may have had much longer beneficial impact. NIH Research The National Institute of Health and the National Institute of Nursing Research funded a study on brain-training and cognition. That study is related-admittedly indirectly-to…

Did You Know You Have An Inner Executive? Show It Some Love

Your brain has an Executive Function. Executive function is the scientific term for our ability to organize activity, learn from past experiences, make plans, solve problems and work puzzles.
Some ScienceAmong the areas in the brain involved in executive function are the medial frontal cortex and the lateral prefrontal cortex. Robert M.G. Reinhart PhD and Assistant Professor of Psychology at Boston University notes that those two areas control most of the executive function. He calls these areas “the alarm bell of the brain”. Reinhart is the Director of the Visual Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston University and, among other area of brain research, has been studying ways to employ electrical stimulation to improve performance in learning and self-control.
“If you make an error, this brain area fires. If I tell you that you make an error, it also fires. If something surprises you, it fires,” says Reinhart.
More Science
Kimberly Luu, currently doing graduate studies at the University of W…

We're Fat as Hell and It's Killing Us

Tuesday, the CDC reported that being overweight or obese is associated with higher risk of 13 different cancers. They put it into perspective with two additional pieces of data: first, two-thirds of American adults are overweight, and second, in 2014, there were 630,000 diagnoses of those forms of cancer in the U.S. That is, there were 630,000 cases of the kinds of cancer associated with being overweight. Over a third of Americans are obese. Now, that’s not someone’s judgement call. That is a statistical finding, based on studies of body mass index (BMI). Here's the formula for BMI so that you can calculate it for yourself. You may want to convert your height and weight into meters; some of the formulas I’ve found use the metric system. Here's a converter for inches into meters.
A friend of mine said he is writing a three-hundred-page book on diet. On one page it has “Eat Less”. The facing page has “Exercise More”, for all three hundred pages. There is no mystery here. We kno…

She Squats Bro

The research team of Dr. Claire J. Steves, Dr. Ted Spector and others at Kings College in London are doing some amazing research on aging (and other important research as well). Much of that examines aging effects on the brain. One of the research studies involved exercise and cognitive decline. Here is a quote from that research: “A striking protective relationship was found between muscle fitness (leg power) and both 10-year cognitive change… and subsequent total grey matter”. In other words, the women with better leg strength and fitness showed less cognitive decline as they aged.
As we continue to note, the link between physical fitness, exercise and so on to maintaining a healthy brain is well known. And, we’ve seen studies where older adults improved cognition with dancing, which obviously requires use of leg muscles. (See Dance Your *** Off; Grow a Bigger Brain). But this is the first I recall where leg muscles in particular were noted, and the first where a muscle group is sho…

Home Alone Wasn't Just Bad For Macaulay Culkin

What everyone ought to know about loneliness.

If you maintain regular interaction with friends and family, everything in your life will be better. If you don’t, odds of bad things, such as cognitive decline and premature death, increase.
Isolation and Loneliness Can Be Deadly From the UCLA Healthy Years Newsletter: Prolonged loneliness and isolation can have serious effects on your health. It can increase bouts of Depression and sadness, disrupt sleep, elevate blood pressure and raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Research has shown that extreme loneliness can increase your chances of early death by 14 percent. In fact, loneliness is put in the same risk category as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and has twice the impact on premature death as does obesity.
The University College London (UCL) and Manchester University have been conducting an ongoing multi-year study called ELSA -English Longitudinal Study of Aging. They reported this finding:                 Social isolation was …

Hang Out & Do Stuff With Friends: Live Longer & Healthier

If you maintain regular interaction with friends and family, everything in your life will be better.
Angela Troyer, PhD and Professional Practice Chief of Psychology and the program director of neuropsychology and cognitive health at Baycrest Hospital in Toronto, Nicole Anderson PhD and Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Psychology at the University of Toronto and Kelly Murphy PhD, Clinical Neuropsychologist at Baycrest and Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto wrote Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Guide to Maximizing Brain Health and Reducing Risk of Dementia.
In synthesizing some of their work, Professor Troyer wrote this: “Did you know that connecting with friends may also boost your brain health and lower your risk of dementia?” She went on to make these four points about social interaction: you may live longer, you will enjoy better physical health; you will enjoy better mental health; and you may even lower your risk of dementia.

In their w…

Do This One Thing to Focus Like a Navy Seal

Our brains normally control our breathing automatically. At the base of the brain is the brain stem, which includes the medulla oblongata, which monitors things like carbon dioxide levels in the blood and signals the lungs to adjust as appropriate.
According to Doctor Matthew MacKinnon, taking control of your breathing for a while can be relaxing and calming. Let’s give it a test. Beginning right now, sit up straight, relax your shoulders, put your hands in your lap. Exhale and empty your lungs. Take a slow deep breath. Try to count slowly up to four as you inhale. Hold your breath for a count of four, then slowly exhale counting 1 2 3 4.  Repeat ten times.

By the time you complete ten reps, you’ve probably cut your respiration rate from about fifteen breaths per minute to six. If you’ve followed along, you should be more relaxed and concentrating better. The Navy Seals call this technique four-box breathing and use it to calm down and focus. And they are likely in more high-pr…

Dance Your *** Off; Grow a Bigger Brain

Just a week ago we summarized research lead by Neuroscientist Aga Burzynska, PhD that showed that dancing improved brain white matter, while other exercise and the control group didn’t. Now we have another related research study led by Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld that shows important brain improvement from dancing. The research was conducted at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases and at the Otto von Geuricke University Medical Center.  Further, dancing achieved better results than an exercise program.
Participants were divided into two groups. One group took dancing lessons. The dance steps and routines became more complex as the study continued. The second group did a combination of endurance training, strength training, flexibility and stretching. Both groups showed measurable improvement. However, the dancers showed more improvement in the part of the brain associated with balance.
From the study: “Results reveal that higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels (VO2 Max) are asso…

Dance and Grow Your Brain

Lee Ann Womack had a giant hit in 2000 with a song called “I hope you dance” written by Mark Sanders and Tia Sellers. Lee Ann, Mark and Tia were on to something. There is ample research supporting the role exercise has in overall health. Further, there is substantial additional research that informs us that we can grow a bigger brain by learning new activities that involve concentration and fine motor skills, such as learning to play the guitar or woodcarving.
Professor Agnieszka Burzynska and a team from the University of Illinois in Urbana performed a study on older adults to see if dancing had any effect on brain health. The test group, which consisted of older adults, was split into three groups. One group maintained their current activities; most of them were sedentary. The second group performed light stretching exercises, and the third group began to take dance lessons and dance. The good news is that the dancers showed real, measurable improvement in the area of the brain cal…

7 Ways to Fix Your Gut and Help Your Brain

Author Peter Andrey Smith titled his article on the relationship of the brain to the intestines, and, in particular, the tiny creatures that live in our intestine beautifully: “The tantalizing links between gut microbes and the brain”. If the human brain is the frontier of medical science, the microbiome, those tiny creatures that live in our intestinal tract, is Jupiter. The linkage between what goes on in the gut and the brain is indeed tantalizing, and the subject of research worldwide. There are over 1,000 different kinds of those things living inside us. There are hints that having the wrong mix of gut microbes, or the absence of any particular type, is linked to asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and more. Further, antibiotics, illnesses and other factors can deplete the population. Here are seven things we can do to help keep our little creatures happy and healthy.
Eat the right stuff. There is evidence that the right diet helps keep …