Category Archives: brain health

Exercise can boost your memory and thinking skills – Harvard

Moderate-intensity exercise can help improve your thinking and memory in just six months.

Happy days! More positive information on the benefits to the brain garnered from physical exercise! This time from Harvard Medical School.

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You probably already know that exercising is necessary to preserve muscle strength, keep your heart strong, maintain a healthy body weight, and stave off chronic diseases such as diabetes. But exercise can also help boost your thinking skills. “There’s a lot of science behind this,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School. Continue reading

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Brain Detects Disease in Others Even Before it Breaks Out

Because my family history includes both Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, I am fascinated by every aspect of the brain and its functions. The following is from Neuroscience News.

The human brain is much better than previously thought at discovering and avoiding disease, a new study led by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden reports. Our sense of vision and smell alone are enough to make us aware that someone has a disease even before it breaks out. And not only aware – we also act upon the information and avoid sick people. The study is published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

By injecting harmless sections of bacteria, the researchers activated the immune response in participants, who developed the classic symptoms of disease – tiredness, pain and fever – for a few hours, during which time smell samples were taken from them and they were photographed and filmed. The injected substance then disappeared from their bodies and with it the symptoms. NeuroscienceNews.com image is for illustrative purposes only.

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Good every day habits to keep your memory in good shape – Harvard

As a senior citizen, I am aware of the aging process going on in both my body and my brain. I exercise to help preserve both. Here are some super suggestions from Harvard HEALTHbeat on bolstering the memory aspect of your brain.

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Your daily habits and lifestyle — what you eat and drink, whether you exercise, how stressed you are, and more — affect your mental health every bit as much as your physical health. A growing body of research indicates that regular exercise and a healthful diet can help protect your memory from aging-related decline. Continue reading

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DARPA Funds Brain-Stimulation Research to Speed Learning

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency  (DARPA) is working with seven U.S. universities and elements of the Air Force and Army on research that seeks to stimulate the brain in a non-invasive way to speed up learning.

DARPA announced the Targeted Neuroplasticity Training, or TNT, program last March, and work now has begun on the effort to discover the safest and most effective ways to activate a natural process called “synaptic plasticity.”

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Plasticity is the brain’s ability to strengthen or weaken its neural connections to adapt to changes in the environment. For TNT Program Manager Dr. Doug Weber, such plasticity is about learning.

“We’re talking about neural plasticity, or how the neurons, which are the working units in the brain, how their function changes over time as we train on new skills,” he said during a recent interview with Department of Defense News.

Targeted Neuroplasticity Training

TNT research focuses on a specific kind of learning called cognitive skills training. People use cognitive skills to do things like pay attention, process information, do several things at once, detect and understand patterns, remember instructions, organize information and much more. Continue reading

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Genes Associated With Resilience Against Brain Pathology Identified

Having had three family members who suffered from some form of dementia I am highly motivated to find out all I can about this scourge that devastates mostly seniors. The following is from the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center.
Genes help cognition withstand damage in brain from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s

The pathologies (damage) in the brain that stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions cause in older adults only partially explain the memory loss, reduced reasoning ability and other cognitive impairments that result from these conditions. Little is known about why the effects of brain pathology vary between people who develop it.

Senses

Now researchers have discovered two genes, known as UNC5C and ENC1, that are associated with aging individuals having better memory and brain function than would be expected, given the amount of pathologies that accumulated in their brains. They reported their findings in an article published today in the journal PLOS Medicine. Continue reading

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Brain’s Power to Adapt Offers Short-Term Gains, Long-Term Strains

There is not necessarily fresh ground broken here, but I think seeing details on how the brain functions can only be helpful. The most important idea for me is one I had going in, namely, you only have one brain so take care of it.

Like air-traffic controllers scrambling to reconnect flights when a major hub goes down, the brain has a remarkable ability to rewire itself after suffering an injury. However, maintaining these new connections between brain regions can strain the brain’s resources, which can lead to serious problems later, including Alzheimer’s Disease, according to researchers.

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After a head injury, the brain can show enhanced connectivity by using alternative routes between two previously connected regions of the brain that need to communicate, as well as make stronger connections, said Frank G. Hillary, associate professor of psychology, Penn State. These new connections between damaged areas are often referred to as hyperconnections, he added. Continue reading

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Healthy living = a healthy brain as you age – Mayo Clinic

Eat less; move more; live longer is the mantra of this blog. Seems that a healthy lifestyle increases the chances of a healthy brain as we age, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can protect the brain against several risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, Mayo Clinic research shows. Controlling blood pressure and cholesterol and avoiding obesity, smoking and diabetes are among the steps that can help preserve brain health, according to the study, published in JAMA Neurology.

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Neurologists believe two aspects make up Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Amyloid deposits: Toxic proteins that build up plaques on the brain.
  • Neurodegeneration: Loss of structure and function of neurons in the brain.

The Mayo research examined whether the risk factors and protective steps against each differ. Continue reading

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Mercury in Fish, Seafood May Be Linked to Higher Risk of ALS

We cut down on red meat to reduce the amount of bad fats in our system. Instead, we dive into eating fish to stay healthy longer. Well, it turns out that’s not a totally safe harbor, either.

Eating fish and seafood with higher levels of mercury may be linked to a higher risk of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according to a preliminary study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 69th Annual Meeting in Boston, April 22 to 28, 2017. However, fish and seafood consumption as a regular part of the diet was not associated with ALS.

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“For most people, eating fish is part of a healthy diet,” said study author Elijah Stommel, MD, PhD, of Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. “But questions remain about the possible impact of mercury in fish.” ‘ Continue reading

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Is Physical Exercise Better Than Brain Exercise for Seniors?

The split between mind and body seems clearest in the realm of exercise. Each is good for us, but is one better?

Professor Sam Wang, Ph.D. Molecular Molecular Biology and Neuroscience, Princeton University covers the subject extensively in Lecture 23 of his course The Neuroscience of Everyday Life which I took from The Great Courses.

Opinion has been split on the subject.

“It is exercise alone that supports the spirits and keeps the mind in vigor.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero – 65 BC.

“Exercise invigorates and enlivens all the faculties of body and mind…. It spreads a gladness and a satisfaction over our minds and qualifies us for every sort of business, and every sort of pleasure.” – John Adams, Second President of the U.S.

On the other hand, that curmudgeon, Mark Twain said, “I take my only exercise acting as pallbearer at the funeral of my friends who exercise regularly.”

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The business of brain-training is a multi-million dollar operation. It includes software and games we can play on our computers, Nintendo, smart phones as well as specialized machines. Also, there are the puzzles, like Sudoku, crosswords and other pattern recognition games.

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Heading a football causes instant changes to the brain

I am not a big fan of the game of soccer, or, as it is known everywhere but in the U.S., football, but there are lots of kids playing it  here and their parents should know about this.

Researchers from the University of Stirling have explored the true impact of heading a football, identifying small but significant changes in brain function immediately after routine heading practice.

The study from Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence published in EBioMedicine is the first to detect direct changes in the brain after players are exposed to everyday head impacts, as opposed to clinical brain injuries like a concussion.

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Football players headed a ball 20 times, fired from a machine designed to simulate the pace and power of a corner kick. Before and after the heading sessions, scientists tested players’ brain function and memory.

Increased inhibition in the brain was detected after just a single session of heading. Memory test performance was also reduced by between 41 and 67 percent, with effects normalizing within 24 hours.

Played by more than 250 million people worldwide, the ‘beautiful game’ often involves intentional and repeated bursts of heading a ball. In recent years the possible link between brain injury in sport and increased risk of dementia has focused attention on whether football heading might lead to long term consequences for brain health. Continue reading

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Three brain chemicals affect how we handle uncertainty

New research has revealed how three important brain signaling chemicals affect the way that we handle uncertainty. It turns out that noradrenaline regulates our estimates of how unstable the environment is, acetylcholine helps us adapt to changing environments, and dopamine pushes us to act on our beliefs about uncertainty. The research, publishing 15 November in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, was led by Louise Marshall and Dr Sven Bestmann at the UCL (University College London) Institute of Neurology.

The study involved 128 healthy participants who took part in a reaction-time task designed to test how they handled uncertainty. Participants were all given either a placebo or a drug to block noradrenaline, acetylcholine or dopamine before starting the task. Participants responded to symbols that were presented one after the other by pressing a corresponding button. Continue reading

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Your brain learns during sleep – Study

I think sleep may be the most under-appreciated aspect of living a healthy life. Diet and exercise and well-known if not often followed, but sleep is often thought of as an intrusion in our busy lives. I know that back when I was in the working world, I certainly thought of it that way.

Scientific data suggests that all animals probably do sleep—including the most unexpected creatures, such as fish, birds, worms, and flies. Sara Aton, University of Michigan ssistant professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, can attest to dozing cats, mice, and even cuttlefish, all of which she’s studied as they snoozed. She marvels that biologists once thought bugs and birds and worms never slept.

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“I think there’s this pervasive misconception that your brain is just turning off when you go to sleep, because there’s no obvious output. Outside of a coma, you can’t think of a less interesting behavior to study than sleep, right?” Aton says. “Sleep is something that, as humans, we spend a third of our life doing. And yet biologists and the neuroscience community didn’t have a lot of interest in it.” (my emphasis)

But now that we know better, new questions arise: Do animals all rest for the same reasons?
After studying sleep for the past decade, Aton is convinced that it matters—a lot. “I’m much more protective of, for example, my son’s sleep than I would have been had I not been in this field,” she says.
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Brain 10 times more active than previously thought – UCLA study

A new UCLA study could change scientists’ understanding of how the brain works — and could lead to new approaches for treating neurological disorders and for developing computers that “think” more like humans.

The research focused on the structure and function of dendrites, which are components of neurons, the nerve cells in the brain. Neurons are large, tree-like structures made up of a body, the soma, with numerous branches called dendrites extending outward. Somas generate brief electrical pulses called “spikes” in order to connect and communicate with each other. Scientists had generally believed that the somatic spikes activate the dendrites, which passively send currents to other neurons’ somas, but this had never been directly tested before. This process is the basis for how memories are formed and stored.

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Scientists have believed that this was dendrites’ primary role.

But the UCLA team discovered that dendrites are not just passive conduits. Their research showed that dendrites are electrically active in animals that are moving around freely, generating nearly 10 times more spikes than somas. The finding challenges the long-held belief that spikes in the soma are the primary way in which perception, learning and memory formation occur.

“Dendrites make up more than 90 percent of neural tissue,” said UCLA neurophysicist Mayank Mehta, the study’s senior author. “Knowing they are much more active than the soma fundamentally changes the nature of our understanding of how the brain computes information. It may pave the way for understanding and treating neurological disorders, and for developing brain-like computers.”

The research is reported in the March 9 issue of the journal Science.

Scientists have generally believed that dendrites meekly sent currents they received from the cell’s synapse (the junction between two neurons) to the soma, which in turn generated an electrical impulse. Those short electrical bursts, known as somatic spikes, were thought to be at the heart of neural computation and learning. But the new study demonstrated that dendrites generate their own spikes 10 times more often than the somas.

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7 Sleep mistakes you don’t know you’re making – Infographic

Sleep is one of the truly under-appreciated aspects of living a long and healthy life. I know for sure that when I was in the working world, I pretty much considered sleep to be an imposition on my busy life.

Times, and my mind, have changed. Please check out my Page – How important is a good night’s sleep for more on this crucial aspect of our daily lives.

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Food and health cliches revisited – Wake Forest

An apple a day keeps the doctor away – I always liked that one. While apples boast many health benefits, they do not, sadly, bulletproof us against all diseases.

“Everything our parents said was good is bad,” complains Alvy Singer, the character played by Woody Allen in “Annie Hall,” his 1977 Oscar-winning romantic comedy.

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That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but when it comes to what certain foods can do to or for you, it’s probably best to take motherly advice, familiar sayings and other bits of conventional wisdom with a grain of salt.

“There’s some validity to some of them, but many of them are just old wives’ tales or myths that have trickled down over the years,” said Annette Frain, a registered dietitian at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Continue reading

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Tips on sharpening your brain – WebMD

I write about exercise almost daily and about the brain nearly as often, but I think they really need to be tied together for the best understanding. Also, because we all want to live past 100, we certainly want the old cabeza to fully functional.

WebMD has a nice 12 part slide show  called Tips to stay smart, sharp and focused. If you want to experience the entire show, just click the link above. I am have picked out a few examples for the folks too lazy busy to do the whole thing right now.

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Number one is superb: USE YOUR BRAIN  “It’s true: Use it or lose it. Stretching your brain keeps your mind sharp. People who are more active in mentally challenging activities are more likely to stay sharp. Try these:
•    Read a book.
•    Go to a lecture.
•    Listen to the radio.
•    Play a game.
•    Visit a museum.
•    Learn a second language.”
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