Category Archives: brain function

Dim light dims our brains – Study

Regular readers know I do a lot of work on the brain, my brain. Family members have suffered from both Alzheimer’s and dementia. At the age of 78, I want to continue enjoying my life and mental capacity.

Now comes Michigan State University with info on how light affects our mental functioning.

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Spending too much time in dimly lit rooms and offices may actually change the brain’s structure and hurt one’s ability to remember and learn, indicates groundbreaking research by Michigan State University neuroscientists.

The researchers studied the brains of Nile grass rats (which, like humans, are diurnal and sleep at night) after exposing them to dim and bright light for four weeks. The rodents exposed to dim light lost about 30 percent of capacity in the hippocampus, a critical brain region for learning and memory, and performed poorly on a spatial task they had trained on previously.

The rats exposed to bright light, on the other hand, showed significant improvement on the spatial task. Further, when the rodents that had been exposed to dim light were then exposed to bright light for four weeks (after a month-long break), their brain capacity – and performance on the task – recovered fully.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is the first to show that changes in environmental light, in a range normally experienced by humans, leads to structural changes in the brain. Americans, on average, spend about 90 percent of their time indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Continue reading

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Send your brain a Valentine

We are sending our loved ones greetings cards and chocolates next week. Let’s not forget that two pound organ in our heads that keeps the show on the road. 

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Here are 10 tips from the Alzheimer’s Association to help protect your brain from decline  as you age. Please don’t wait till you are in your 60’s to start thinking about your brain health. The sooner your pay attention to it the better off you will be. 
1 Break a sweat
Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.

I write about exercise and the brain regularly. Check out my Page – Important facts about your brain (and exercise benefits) to learn more about this. 

2 Hit the books
Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online. Continue reading

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Aerobic exercise may ease some Alzheimer’s symptoms

Regular readers how focused I am on the connection between exercise and the brain. I lost three family members to Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of dementia. And, I just turned 78 two weeks ago. So, I was most interested in this report on the benefits of aerobic exercise on Alzheimer’s symptoms. When you finish reading, please check out my Page – Important facts about  your brain (and exercise benefits.)

Alzheimer’s Disease is a brain disorder that destroys memory and thinking skills over time. It is the most common form of dementia in older adults. There is presently no cure for the condition, though treatment options are available. Today, some 5.3 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s Disease, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. The number of older adults who will develop AD is expected to more than triple by 2050.

Geriatrics experts have suggested that exercising can improve brain health in older adults. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommendations for how much older adults should exercise. They suggest that older adults perform 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise (such as brisk walking), 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic training, or a combination of the two types. The WHO also recommends older adults perform muscle-strengthening exercises on at least two or more days a week. Continue reading

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Miles between Davis and Mozart: Brains of Jazz and Classical Musicians Work Differently

Music is one of the great joys of my life. I have a bluetooth speaker on my bike and I listen to music on my daily rides. My iPhone has about 15 gigabytes of jazz, classics and classic rock so I have the entire spectrum available. Consuming music, however, is not the same as producing it.

Different processes occur in the brains of jazz and classical pianists while playing the same piece of music, researchers report in Neuroscience News.

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Keith Jarret, world-famous jazz pianist, once answered in an interview when asked if he would ever be interested in doing a concert where he would play both jazz and classical music: “No, that’s hilarious. […] It’s like a chosen practically impossible thing […] It’s [because of] the circuitry. Your system demands different circuitry for either of those two things.” Where non-specialists tend to think that it should not be too challenging for a professional musician to switch between styles of music, such as jazz and classical, it is actually not as easy as one would assume, even for people with decades of experience.

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9 Rules for Brain-Healthy Eating – Infographic

I don’t know what the Amen Clinic is, but this is a wonderful infographic of foods the help your brain function better.

Don’t forget that, like your body, your brain benefits from physical exercise, too. To read further on that, check out my Page – Important Facts About Your Brain (and Exercise Benefits).

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Tony

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Lack of Sleep Boosts Levels of Alzheimer’s Protein – Study

I wrote about the dangers of sleep deprivation earlier this week. Here is the opening paragraph of that post: Regular readers know that I am an old man and very highly value a good night’s sleep. That is not the way I felt 20 years ago when I was in the working world. In those days I felt strongly that sleep was an intrusion on my life and activities and resented having to do it. I got a little wiser as the years went by. Please check out my Page – How important is a good night’s sleep? for significantly more details on this very important aspect of living a long healthy life.

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Have you resolved to take better care of yourself in the new year? Here’s a relatively painless way to do it: Catch a few more zzz’s every night. A third of American adults don’t get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention..

Chronic poor sleep has been linked to cognitive decline, and a new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis explains why: As a wakeful brain churns away through the night, it produces more of the Alzheimer’s protein amyloid beta than its waste-disposal system can handle. Levels of the protein rise, potentially setting off a sequence of changes to the brain that can end with dementia.

“This study is the clearest demonstration in humans that sleep disruption leads to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease through an amyloid beta mechanism,” said senior author Randall Bateman, MD, the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Distinguished Professor of Neurology. “The study showed that it was due to overproduction of amyloid beta during sleep deprivation.” Continue reading

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Why sleep deprivation affects each of us differently

Regular readers know that I am an old man and very highly value a good night’s sleep. That is not the way I felt 20 years ago when I was in the working world. In those days I felt strongly that sleep was an intrusion on my life and activities and resented having to do it. I got a little wiser as the years went by. Please check out my Page – How important is a good night’s sleep? for significantly more details on this very important aspect of living a long healthy life.

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Losing sleep in favor of some good holiday fun a few times each year is nothing to worry about, but chronic sleep deprivation can have adverse health effects. Some of us are affected more than others, however, and new research helps us understand why.

For some of us, it may be harder to perform certain cognitive tasks after a sleepless night.

With 50 to 70 million adults in the United States having a “sleep or wakefulness disorder,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider sleep deprivation a “public health concern.”

Sleep loss is especially alarming given its status as a significant risk factor for traffic accidents and medical mishaps, as well as posing a danger to one’s health.

Insufficient sleep could increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and cancer, among others conditions.

Cognitively, sleep deprivation has a wide range of adverse effects. In fact, the CDC report that 23.2 percent of U.S. adults aged 20 and above have trouble concentrating, and another 18.2 percent say that they have trouble remembering things as a result of losing sleep. Continue reading

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Short-term exercise = Big-time brain boost – Study

Herewith more good news on the connection between exercise and mental capacity. Eat less; move more; live longer – and maybe think better.

A 10-minute, one-time burst of exercise can measurably boost your brain power, at least temporarily, researchers at Western University in London, Canada, have found.

While other studies have showed brain-health benefits after 20-minutes of a single-bout of exercise, or following commitment to a long-term (24-week) exercise program, this research suggests even 10 minutes of aerobic activity can prime the parts of the brain that help us problem-solve and focus.

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“Some people can’t commit to a long-term exercise regime because of time or physical capacity,” said Kinesiology Prof. Matthew Heath, who is also a supervisor in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience and, with master’s student Ashna Samani, conducted the study. “This shows that people can cycle or walk briskly for a short duration, even once, and find immediate benefits.” Continue reading

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Age: It’s Just a Number

There are some superb concepts in this post that are in harmony with much of what I have written on living a long, healthy, happy life with your brain still functioning throughout. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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Tony

The Other Side of 55

“Age is just a number, and agelessness means not buying into the idea that a number determines everything from your state of health to your attractiveness to your value. You can be younger at 60 than you were at 30 because you’ve changed your attitude and your lifestyle. To be ageless is to defy the rules of what it supposedly means to be this age or that age. It is, quite simply, to never ‘grow old’ – to never feel as if the best days are behind you and it’s all downhill from here.”

Christiane Northrup, M.D. (from ‘Goddesses Never Age’).

There’s a great line in the original Crocodile Dundee movie when Sue asks Mick when he was born and he says, “In the summer”. He has no idea how many years he has lived (i.e., how ‘old’ he is), and so his age doesn’t limit him…

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Catastrophic strokes can follow mini strokes

I wrote a post several years ago on what you need to know about stroke. Here is the opening graf: “The National Stroke Association (NSA) says, “A stroke or heart attack of the brain occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery (a blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the body) or a blood vessel (a tube through which the blood moves through the body) breaks, interrupting blood flow to an area of the brain.  When either of these things happens, brain cells begin to die and brain damage occurs.”

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Patients suffer stroke-like symptoms such as paralysis on one side or difficulty speaking. While symptoms typically go away in less than a few minutes and there’s no brain damage, TIAs often are followed by severe strokes.

TIAs are an “ominous prelude to an impending cerebrovascular catastrophe, but also the opportunity to prevent a disabling event,” Loyola Medicine neurologists Camilo R. Gomez, MD, Michael J. Schneck, MD and José Biller, MD report in the journal F1000 Research. However, the neurologists add that rapid evaluation and treatment can reduce the risk of stroke by about 80 percent during the dangerous first week following a TIA.

Most strokes are ischemic, meaning they are caused by blood clots that block blood flow to a part of the brain. TIAs also are caused by blood clots, but the clots quickly dissolve or are dislodged. However, there’s a 5 to 10 percent risk of suffering a stroke during the 30 days following a TIA, and 15 to 20 percent of ischemic stroke patients report having experienced an earlier TIA.

A TIA requires urgent management, but there is controversy about how to accomplish this: Should patients be temporarily hospitalized, which may be safer, or should they be evaluated on an outpatient basis, which may be more convenient and cost effective? The existing literature is inconclusive. “Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages,” the Loyola neurologists wrote. Continue reading

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HOW DOES THE BRAIN STORE & PROCESS MEMORIES?

Regular readers know what a big fan I am of the brain and its function in our daily life. As a 77 year old, I am also supremely interested in keeping mine functioning into these, my later, years. Check out my Page Important facts about your brain (and exercise benefits.

Tony

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How Does The Brain Store & Process Memories?Every sight, smell, sound, touch, and specific memory is stored in the recesses of your mind—but what parts of your brain store specific types of sensory data? Read on to learn more about where your brain stores these memories and which parts of your brain control specific functions.

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Exercise increases brain size, new research finds

Here is another source of the same facts I have been reporting in this blog for some years now. Your brain gets as much benefit from your cardiovascular exercise as your body.

Aerobic exercise can improve memory function and maintain brain health as we age, a new Australian-led study has found.

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In a first of its kind international collaboration, researchers from NICM and the Division of Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Manchester in the UK examined the effects of aerobic exercise on a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is critical for memory and other brain functions.

Brain health decreases with age, with the average brain shrinking by approximately five per cent per decade after the age of 40.

Studies in mice and rats have consistently shown that physical exercise increases the size of the hippocampus but until now evidence in humans has been inconsistent. (my emphasis)

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Cardio exercise strengthens both body and brain

With Thanksgiving looming, this is a great time to reaffirm our resolve to exercise regularly. OR, it is the ideal time to resolve to exercise regularly in the coming year and maybe begin to address physical and weight problems that we have neglected.

Regular readers know that I have posted numerous times on the value of exercise not only for our bodies, but also for our brains. On the top of this page is IMPORTANT FACTS ABOUT YOUR BRAIN.

If you click on that link you can find a page full of blog posts on the subject.

Our ancestors engaged in some serious cardio exercise just to get food.

Our ancestors engaged in some serious cardio exercise just to get food. No walking down a supermarket aisle for them.

And now, the New York Times joins in the fray with Gretchen Reynolds’s article Exercise and the Ever-Smarter Human Brain.
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Heart function linked to brain’s memory center – Study

This is fascinating and seems to bolster my thought that exercising the body benefits the brain a great deal. The concept of use it or lose it is widely known and accepted regarding physical development. It seems it also applies to mental makeup.  As above, so below.

Research by a team of Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) scientists suggests that older people whose hearts pump less blood have blood flow reductions in the temporal lobe regions of the brain, where Alzheimer’s pathology begins.

The brain, which accounts for only 2 percent of total body weight, typically receives 12 percent of blood flow from the heart — a level maintained by complex, automatic processes, which maintain consistent blood flow to the brain at all times.

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Angela Jefferson, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Memory and Alzheimer’s Center, and colleagues investigated whether lower cardiac index (the amount of blood flowing out of the heart adjusted for body size) correlated with lower blood flow to the brain.

The purpose of the study was to better understand whether reductions in brain blood flow might explain clinical observations in prior research that have linked heart function to cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

“We currently know a lot about how to prevent and medically manage many forms of heart disease, but we do not yet know how to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease,” Jefferson said. Continue reading

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Losing weight through diet and exercise helps brain blood circulation in older diabetics – Study

Once again we have it demonstrated that diet and exercise prove beneficial even to seniors suffering from diabetes, according to HealthyinAging.org.

Type 2 diabetes affects blood circulation. The disease stiffens blood vessels and reduces the amount of oxygen that circulates throughout your body. This includes your brain. When blood flow in the brain is impaired, it can affect the way we think and make decisions.

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People who have type 2 diabetes are often overweight or obese. These are conditions that may also be linked to cognitive problems (problems with thinking abilities). Lowering calorie intake and increasing physical activity are known to reduce the negative effects of type 2 diabetes on the body. However, the effects of these interventions on cognition and the brain are not clear.

Recently, researchers examined information from a 10-year-long study called Action for Health in Diabetes (Look AHEAD). In this study, participants learned how to adopt healthy, long-term behavior changes. In their new study, the researchers focused on whether participants with type 2 diabetes who lowered calories in their diet and increased physical activity had better blood flow to the brain. The researchers published their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

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Do daydreamers have more efficient brains? – MNT

Must confess I have had a problem with daydreaming in my youth, particularly in school. So, this news from Medical News Today gave me something I could throw back at those teachers who chided me as a child.

Daydreaming is often associated with a reduced capacity to focus on a task at hand, and people who allow their minds to wander may be regarded as uninvolved, or as having “their head in the clouds.”

One study found that people’s minds tend to wander for almost half of their waking day, and the researchers behind it suggested that daydreaming could render us unhappy as our thoughts tend to drift toward negative scenarios.

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Yet could people who daydream more than most actually have an advantage?

New research led by Dr. Eric Schumacher and doctoral student Christine Godwin, from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, seems to indicate that daydreamers have very active brains, and that they may be more intelligent and creative than the average person.

“People with efficient brains,” explains Dr. Schumacher, “may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering.”

The study’s findings were recently published in the journal Neuropsychologia.

Cognitive ability and DMN connectivity

The default mode network (DMN) of the brain — that is, the neural connectivity that is visibly active even when the brain is otherwise at rest — has previously been linked to daydreaming.

In the new study, the researchers were interested in finding out whether the particular dynamics of the DMN in daydreamers, and this network’s communication with other parts of the brain during mind wandering, correlated with heightened cognitive abilities.

Dr. Schumacher and his team worked with 112 participants who were subjected both to MRI scans and to tests targeting cognitive performance.

During the scan, the participants were asked to look at a fixed point for 5 minutes, during which time the researchers monitored their DMN activity. They also investigated how DMN activity correlated with other brain regions in a resting state.

“The correlated brain regions gave us insight about which areas of the brain work together during an awake, resting state,” says Godwin.

This was important, she added, because “research has suggested that these same brain patterns measured during these states are related to different cognitive abilities.”

The data from the MRI scans were paired with information derived from tasks aimed to measure the participants’ intellectual abilities and creativity. They were asked to respond to a mind wandering questionnaire.

It was found that participants who said that they spent a lot of time daydreaming performed better in the cognitive tasks. Their MRI scans also showed heightened activity in regions connected with learning and memory.

The scans confirmed that DMN activity was tied to mind wandering. Daydreaming also correlated with connectivity between the DMN and the frontoparietal control network of the brain, which has been associated with cognitive control, or adaptability to different situations, and working memory.

Efficient brains and wandering attention

Dr. Schumacher says that these findings suggest that daydreaming may not deserve the stigma attached to it, after all.

“People tend to think of mind wandering as something that is bad. You try to pay attention and you can’t. Our data are consistent with the idea that this isn’t always true. Some people have more efficient brains.” Dr. Eric Schumacher

He adds that daydreamers with a heightened cognitive performance will most likely be able to tune themselves out of discussions or presentations without, in fact, losing the thread of the argument.

“Our findings remind me of the absent-minded professor — someone who’s brilliant, but off in his or her own world, sometimes oblivious to their own surroundings,” says Dr. Schumacher.

“Or,” he adds, “school children who are too intellectually advanced for their classes. While it may take 5 minutes for their friends to learn something new, they figure it out in a minute, then check out and start daydreaming.”

However, the researchers think that more studies are needed to investigate both the positive and potentially negative aspects of daydreaming.

“There are important individual differences to consider as well, such as a person’s motivation or intent to stay focused on a particular task,” Godwin concludes.

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