Category Archives: Healthy brain

Study links intelligence and chess skill

For the record I got very involved in playing chess in my younger years. I loved the game’s many facets and spent hours poring over the board. Ultimately, I gave it up to play backgammon. I found the element of chance in backgammon to be more appealing. That random aspect coupled with the fact that a lot of people played backgammon for money won me over. That was never the case in chess.

Intelligence – and not just relentless practice – plays a significant role in determining chess skill, indicates a comprehensive new study led by Michigan State University researchers.

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The research provides some of the most conclusive evidence to date that cognitive ability is linked to skilled performance – a hotly debated issue in psychology for decades – and refutes theories that expertise is based solely on intensive training.

“Chess is probably the single most studied domain in research on expertise, yet the evidence for the relationship between chess skill and cognitive ability is mixed,” said MSU’s Alexander Burgoyne, lead author on the study. “We analyzed a half-century worth of research on intelligence and chess skill and found that cognitive ability contributes meaningfully to individual differences in chess skill.” 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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Get the jump on Alzheimer’s and dementia – Rush

Regular readers know that because I have lost three family members to Alzheimer’s and dementia I have a serious interest in keeping myself safe. And, by extension, you. This isn’t just for seniors.

Rush Medical Center has some very  useful suggestions on the subject.

Do you have the power to prevent Alzheimer’s disease? Although some risk factors — age and family history — are beyond your control, increasing evidence from research indicates that you aren’t helpless.

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Researchers from the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center and around the world have found that certain lifestyle choices can protect your brain against the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Incorporate the following activities into your life, and your brain could reap the benefits Continue reading

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Seniors’ brains benefit from distraction – Study

While I want to live past 100, I also want to have my brain fully functional. So, any piece of information that satisfies that criterion, is music to my ears.

As you age, you may find it more difficult to focus on certain tasks. But while distractions can be frustrating, they may not be as bad as we think. In a review published November 15 in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, researchers at the University of Toronto and Harvard University suggest that there may be some benefits to reduced focus, especially in people over 50. Using behavioral studies and neuroimaging evidence, the researchers discuss how being easily distracted can help adults with, for example, problem solving and learning new information.

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“Different types of tasks benefit from a more broad focus of attention, and this is usually seen in tasks that involve thinking creatively or using information that was previously irrelevant,” says first author Tarek Amer, a psychology Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto and a graduate student at the Rotman Research Institute. “The literature gives us the impression that older adults are essentially doomed as their cognitive abilities decrease, when, in reality, many older adults get along just fine in their day-to-day lives, and we think that shows that aging adults don’t always need to have high cognitive control.”

When people have high cognitive control, they are able to maintain their focused attention and ignore distractions to get things done. But Amer and his colleagues found that people with reduced cognitive control had an easier time thinking of creative solutions to problems, and they were better at noticing patterns in the world around them. These findings also indicated that older adults could outperform their younger counterparts on certain problem-solving tasks, as they were able to broaden their attention more easily. Additionally, people didn’t require high levels of cognitive control for inherent, day-to-day tasks, like walking down the street or learning new information.

In order to explore the benefits of cognitive control, many lab-based behavioral experiments require participants to complete a specific set of tasks, limiting the role of distraction. But the researchers say these experiments have shortcomings, as they don’t explore situations when distractions and reduced cognitive control could be helpful, making the conclusions fairly one sided.

“Many of the tasks that we study in classic cognitive psychology are tasks that require high cognitive control, but these assigned tasks might not accurately mirror what people do in the real world because they limit distractions,” says co-author Lynn Hasher, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and the Rotman Research Institute. “But a distraction in one setting can actually be useful information in another setting, and the more information you have, the better able you’re going to be to address a current problem.”

Amer and his colleagues hope to use this information to determine exactly what tasks can benefit from reduced control in order to better simulate these experiences in a lab. Although they also hope to expand the research beyond the aging population to examine how distractions can be beneficial for people with a range of cognitive impairments, for now they recognize that this understanding of cognitive control is a step closer to understanding the aging brain.

“There is a question about what really sustains performance in old age, and it’s clear that working memory alone cannot provide us with the answer to that question,” says Hasher. “But we think it’s possible that studying reduced cognitive control can help us understand how older adults can still perform independently and successfully in their lives.”

While it is gratifying to learn that some slippage in our mental acuity is not necessarily harmful, it is also crucial that we keep are mental ‘hardware’ in toptop shape. Please check out my Page -While it is gratifying to learn that some slippage in our mental acuity is not necessarily harmful, it is also crucial that we keep are mental ‘hardware’ in toptop shape. Please check out my Page – Important facts about your brain (and exercise benefits) for more.

Tony

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11 Ways Men And Women Think Differently

I will be 77 years old next month. Have had two marriages each of which lasted 11-1/2 years. I have fathered two daughters. My current relationship is in its fourth year and I am still not sure I have a clue about women. I learned a lot from this post. Hope you will, too.

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Tony

Our Better Health

Men and women are different. There are some good biological reasons for that. Studies of brain scans of men and women show that women tend to use both sides of their brain because they have a larger corpus callosum. This is the bridge between the two hemispheres of the brain and allows women to share information between those two halves of the brain faster than men. Men tend to use the left side of the brain which is the more logical and rational side of the brain. Scans also reveal other interesting ways in which men and women do things differently or process information differently from each other.

HERE ARE 11 WAYS MEN AND WOMEN THINK DIFFERENTLY:

1. PERCEPTION
Women have smaller brains that are more tightly packed with connections. This allows them to perform better at tasks involving the bigger picture and situational thinking. A man’s brain tends to…

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You Can Slow Down Brain Drain

Regular readers know that I have a serious interest in brain health as three of my family members have suffered from dementia in general or Alzheimer’s in particular.

Now comes Neuroscience News reporting, “Individuals who participated in high challenge activities like quilting and photography showed enhanced brain activity, according to a new Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience report.

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“One of the greatest challenges associated with the growing numbers of aged adults is how to maintain a healthy aging mind. Taking up a new mental challenge such as digital photography or quilting may help maintain cognitive vitality, say researchers reporting in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience.”

I would like to add that in my experience attending the Healthy Transitions (over age 55) group talks at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, on the various aspects and challenges of aging, the most popular and avidly attended talks are the ones on Alzheimer’s and brain health. All of us folks over 55 have suffered ‘senior moments’ and are hungry for information on protecting against brain drain. Continue reading

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How to Have a Healthy Brain and Keep It

“It’s increasingly clear that exercise is as good for the brain as it is for the body, The Globe and Mail reported. “You’ll score better on cognitive tests immediately after a moderate workout, and the gains accumulate over weeks of regular exercise. The mechanism is thought to involve a rise in growth-promoting brain chemicals and neurotransmitters, but it’s not clear how much or what type of exercise is most effective.

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“To investigate the optimal brain-boosting exercise dose, a University of Kansas study assigned older adults to walk for between zero and 225 minutes a week for 26 weeks. As little as 75 minutes a week was enough to improve scores on a battery of cognitive tests, and there were further gains all the way up to 225 minutes. The overall pattern was that those who made biggest improvements in aerobic fitness also saw the biggest boosts in cognitive scores. Get your body fit, in other words, and the brain will follow.”

It’s great to read this information elsewhere. I have been writing about it for some time. Check out my Page – Important Facts About Your Brain (and Exercise Benefits) to learn more.

Meanwhile, the AARP reported that in a survey of adults over 40, some eight out of 10 believe maintaining or improving brain health is important. Also, more than half, (56 percent) currently engage in activities healthful to the brain, like consuming a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. Continue reading

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How to Keep Your Brain Young – Infographic

Regular readers know that the brain is a subject near and dear to my heart. Talk about vital organs. The brain is it.

My family has had both Alzheimer’s and dementia in the last generation. I am resolved to do everything in my power to escape them. To learn more check out my Page – Important Facts About Your Brain (and Exercise benefits).

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