Posts Tagged ‘brain health’

workoutAs we work in a creative environment, we probably spend more time than most thinking about how to preserve and enhance the capacity of our brains. In the advertising industry, you’re often said to be “only as good as your last idea”. Which is why this research echoed with us. Anything we can use to keep our ideas fresh and flowing is good news!

But, a brain workout?

Yep, it’s a thing.

Fact: We are outliving our brains. Life expectancy in the developed world is now about 80 years old. And the trend towards longer living is speeding up. With better nutrition, shelter and medical care, girls have a one in three chance of living to 100, while boys have one in four.

And the problem?

Well, our cognitive brain performance actually peaks in our early 40s. That means mental functions like memory, speed of thinking, problem-solving, reasoning, and decision-making decline in the last 30 or 40 years of life. Ironically, as we accumulate “life wisdom”, we gradually lose the ability to access it and use it. And as our population ages, and we retire nearer 70 than 60, for example, this becomes critically important.

The truth is most people don’t consider their brain health until they’re faced with injury, disease, or simply getting old. But just as we’ve come to realise that we can improve our physical health through diet and exercise, we can improve our cognitive health too.  It’s simply a matter of engaging in the right mental workouts.

Science now strongly supports the fact that our brains are one of the most modifiable parts of our whole body. Our brains actually adapt from moment to moment, depending on how we use them; they either decline or improve, and which direction they go depends on us and the way we challenge them.

exercising brainA research team at the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas is working on how to improve brain performance at all ages, and their findings show that making our brains stronger, healthier, and more productive requires actually changing the way we use them every single day.  And that’s where daily changes come in.

Before we can really perform at peak levels with our brains, we all must first abandon toxic habits that are depleting brain resources, and also incorporate complex thinking into our daily routines.

So are you ready to make your brain smarter? Here are a few scientifically proven ways to do it.

Quiet Your Mind

“Don’t make rash decisions!” In a word, slow down. And give your mind a break, now and then.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve all been given that advice, and as part of our career has been “helping people to make better decisions more easily” with the business “decisions, decisions” we warmly applaud the idea. Unwonted speed in decision making is often a recipe for failure, and sometimes those failures can cascade disastrously through an organisation, when if a little time had been taken for reflection, and we had employed tried and tested decision-making tools, we would have made our chances for success much greater.

Why take a break? Well, the brain can often better solve complex problems when you step away to reflect on ideas and crucial decisions rather than acting without weighing choices.

Shhhhhhhhh.

Shhhhhhhhh.

A halt in constant thinking slows your mind’s rhythms, allowing it to refresh.

Put a knotty problem in your subconscious, be confident that a solution will occur to you – indeed, say, “my subconscious is going to solve this” out loud – and then forget about it for a while. More often than not, a solution will occur when you least expect it. Your subconscious mind will pop out an answer without you wearing yourself out worrying the problem to death.

As a simple rule to give your brain a chance to help you, employ a “Five by Five” principle where you take a break from whatever you’re doing five times a day for at least five minutes to reset your brain.

When we let our brain work behind the scenes, we have our best “a-ha!” moments. And don’t we all want more of those?

In the Wellthisiswhatithink dungeon we find ours occur in the shower. So often, in fact, that we sometimes take a long, hot, relaxing shower when we don’t really “need” one, because the insights seem to flow so easily!

Translate Your World

Move away from surface-level, uninspired thinking and eschew predictable thoughts by pushing past the obvious and really think.

There is so MUCH to think about. How do you decide what you MUST think about? Answer: synthesise.

There is so MUCH to think about. How do you decide what you MUST think about? Answer: synthesise.

For example, if you were asked what a movie was about, you, like most people, you would often give a play-by-play of events that occurred, full of detail.

But to boost brainpower, think instead of the major themes of the film and relate it to personal situations in your own life and how they apply.

As an exercise, think back on one of your favourite movies or books from the past year and generate five to eight different short take-home messages you can glean from it.

This consciously analytical or critical process, which is called “synthesised thinking”, strengthens the connections between different areas of our brains. Our brains actually become quickly jaded by routine – by driving through the treacle of vast amounts of information – since they were actually built to dynamically shift between details and the big picture. When you’re a cave man being chased by wolves, it becomes unimportant to be able to describe each wolf in fine detail, and very important to work our which one is closest to you and likely to catch you, and what to do about that. Get the idea?

Our brains also hate information downloading, so it helps to think like a reporter. What really matters in the story? Don’t get overwhelmed by information flow – in fact, demand that you are relieved from it.

When taking in large amounts of information, try to explain it in a few sentences. Kick off your meetings with provocative big ideas. Power important email messages with simple but thought-evoking subject lines.

Stop Multi-tasking. Really. STOP.

We have written before about how we are inundated with more and more tasks every day.

Nu-uh. Not going to happen.

Nu-uh. Not going to happen.

Relentless simultaneous input and output fatigues the brain and reduces productivity and efficiency. You may think that by doing two or three things at once – like participating in “corridor meeting” on your way to somewhere else while tapping out a couple of emails on your smart phone –  you are actually moving faster through your day. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Our to-do lists keep getting longer while performance and accuracy slip. So, when working on higher-order thinking tasks that matter, allow your focus to be completely uninterrupted for at least 15 minutes at a time and then gradually increase the length of those intervals.

And remember – you can never do everything. There will always be “something” on your list of things to do. Worrying about the length of the list is a sure-fire way to increase your stress, and stress reduces your ability to think clearly.

So prioritise your lists, and be comfortable with the fact that “everyone dies with something on their list”.

Move Your Feet

Recently published research shows that aerobic exercise stimulates positive brain change and memory gains faster than we previously thought possible.

Adding regular aerobic exercise that elevates your heart rate to your routine at least three times a week for an hour won’t just help with physical health, it will also increase brain blood flow to key memory centres in the brain and improve our memory for facts. When you combine complex thinking with aerobic exercise, brain health benefits are amplified. You don’t have to become a gym junkie – a brisk walk round the block or your local park is an excellent choice.

Works just as well in an office as it does on a 747.

Works just as well in an office as it does on a 747.

And here’s a thought: if you really can’t get away from your desk, what about doing some of those “sitting in your place” exercises that they now recommend to help prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis on aircraft?

Roll your neck, shrug your shoulders, shake your hands, waggle your feet, push them up and down.

Anything that improves circulation and muscle use will help your brain, too.

Action this day.

Until recently, we thought that cognitive decline was an inevitable part of getting old, but the good news is that’s officially not the case.

Toxic physical and mental habits and a life on autopilot are key culprits for unnecessary cognitive decline. Research has shown that healthy adults who use these strategies can regain lost cognitive performance, improve blood flow in the brain, speed up communication between its regions and expand its structural connections.

See results fast!

Just like all those ads for food supplements and gym memberships, you can actually evoke some of these positive changes in a matter of hours. Adopting this new, healthier way of thinking translates into immediate real-life benefits that support our ability to make decisions, think critically, reason and plan.

In other words, shaping your brain by engaging in the right kind of daily mental exercise has the power to reverse brain aging and actually make you smarter, more creative, and less stressed.

So boost your brainpower! You have nothing to lose, and much to gain.

This core of this article was originally written by Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, author of “Make Your Brain Smarter,” who is founder and chief director of the Centre for Brain Health, and a Distinguished University Professor at The University of Texas at Dallas. Wellthisiswhatithink has added to it substantially.

orgasms good for you


(From Huffpost)

Hard on the heels of breakthrough research that drinking champagne is good for heading off Alzheimers, we all know that doing crossword puzzles is good for your brain – but not as good as having orgasms, apparently.

Rutgers researchers Barry Komisaruk and Nan Wise, who study human pleasure, recruited female subjects (why only women? Ed.) willing to bring themselves to orgasm while lying in an MRI machine that measured blood flow to different parts of the brain. These experiments showed that orgasms increase blood flow to all parts of the brain – bringing nutrients and oxygenation along, too.

“Mental exercises increase brain activity but only in relatively localized regions,” Komisaruk told Will Pavia for the Times Of London. “Orgasm activates the whole.”

As well as keeping your brain sharp, orgasms are thought to decrease stress, ease depression and increase longevity. Komisaruk is also spearheading research on how orgasms can block pain.

In November 2011, writer Kayt Sukel volunteered as a subject for Komisaruk’s research. In an article about her experience for The Guardian, Sukel explained that the most difficult part of the experience was remaining still enough during the scan to keep the data viable, and explaining to her friends what she was up to.

“If you ever want to make even the most cosmopolitan of your friends speechless, telling them you have volunteered to travel to Newark, New Jersey, so you can masturbate to orgasm in an fMRI is a great way to start,” Sukel quipped in a blog post for the Huffington Post.

Komisaruk, who has been involved in this field of study since 1982, claims that his research is well-received by the academic community.

“We are desensitizing people,” he told the Times. “They used to be very squeamish about it and we’re very straightforward about it. They don’t make fun of it, we don’t make fun of it. A lot of people take it very seriously.”

Count his research as another good reason to keep having fun in bed.

Meanwhile, your fearless reporter has only one burning question to ask you, Dear Reader:

Would the fact that the research was conducted in New Jersey make it more or less likely that you would volunteer?

Anyway, we will be asking Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink to the boudoir in due course to glug a bottle of Bolly and, er “complete a crossword”. All in the interests of a healthy brain, naturally.

The plastic brain

More malleable than we ever believed. Just look me in the eyes, and you’ll know I speak the truth.

I am living proof of brain plasticity.

Some years ago, I was undergoing a minor medical procedure – which was advisable but not absolutely necessary – and I was warned en passant that there was a 1 in 1,000 chance I would experience a stroke.

I’ve never had a 1,000-1 horse come in, so I disregarded the risk.

Well, Dear Reader, that’s the last time I ignore apparently small risks. In recovery the nurse asked how I was. I answered “which of you wants to know?”

I had double vision. Two very pretty brunettes were looking down at me with a concerned expression. Side by side. Twins.

After a day or two of head scratching, it was decided that a tiny blood clot had made its way up to my brain, and settled on the nerve controlling the positioning of my right eye, which was now pointing at virtual right angles to my left. A later MRI confirmed it. A tiny, but potentially deadly little white hole in my brain, where the clot had starved it of oxygen.

I was very lucky. The clot could have stopped anywhere, and anywhere else might have killed me. But it was difficult to feel too grateful about this fact when it appeared that the most useful result from this pretty much unnecessary surgery was going to be being able to watch both sides of a football pitch simultaneously.

Worse, there was nothing to be done. “Ooops, sorry.” was the collective response of the medical fraternity. “Dunno what will happen now,” the response of the concerned but out-of-ideas neurologist. Dead brain tissue is dead brain tissue.

Luckily for me, Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink and Fruit of Loins are both blessed with an optimistic stubborn-ness that rivals my own,although at this time mine was admittedly tinged with a few buckets of self pity as well.

We were due to fly to the UK and Europe for a holiday, so after a family conference, and determining that there was no medical reason not to, we set off anyway.

For a while, at least some of the day I wore an eye patch. (Remove binocular vision from your kit bag and see how you go. Steps and staircases, not to mention sidewalks, were a death trap.)

All very funny - until it happens to you. (No, that isn't me.)

All very funny – until it happens to you. (And no, that isn’t me.)

But every day, we sat down, and my family looked me in the eye. Although we could see no appreciable difference, for week after week, I simply thought about the eye straightening up. I willed it to. I tried as hard as I could to look straight ahead, even though it was impossible. Just tried, in my head, to look dead ahead with the bung eye.

“I think it moved a little bit!” was the inevitable response from my dear wife and daughter whenever I asked anxiously whether they could see any difference, especially if I reported that I felt like the eye was moving.

They were lying. White lying. The eye stayed stubbornly askew, and I stayed effectively disabled, angry, looking ridiculous (vanity was a big part of my irritation) and worried. I was unable to drive, of course. What if nothing changed? Someone muttered darkly about surgery to make the eye at least point straight, if not to the right, which would have at least provided minimal relief for my vanity if nothing else.

Then, after about three months, over the course of about three remarkable days, the eye simply righted itself. Well, that should really be “lefted” itself, I suppose. One day it was markedly less strange looking, the next even more so, the day after it was straight, and I could look right and left with it as well as, blessedly, straight ahead.

In discussion with somewhat bemused medicos later on, the consensus was that the brain had re-wired itself. Unable to get blood to the nerves controlling the eye through the previous route, it had looked, spurred on by my wanting it to, for another pathway. Eventually, the nerves got some blood supply, they “woke up”, and the brain was once again able to get messages to the eye telling it where to look.

To this day, this “by pass” effect continues to do the job, although after a long day it is obvious that my eye and the brain somehow get “tired”. I can’t really explain the sensation, it’s not pain or even a dull ache or, indeed, anything ‘physical’ at all that I can put my finger on, but it’s like they somehow communicate to me: it’s like they’re saying “come on, do the right thing, we’re doing our best to deliver this workaround, but we’re knackered now. Take a break.” So I do. Gratefully.

More amazing than any of us ever imagined.

More amazing than any of us ever imagined.

So I reproduce the article below to encourage you – yes, you – to think about “brain plasticity”. Or “neuroplasticity” as it is also called.

We all have things we don’t like about our brains – we are annoyed by our inability to remember details, we may suffer from anxiety, depression or stress, we may get confused when faced with complex tasks, or ironically, simple ones.

The message from recent research is that how we manage our brain – the exercises we put it through, even the things we think about – has a profound effect on how it works, even sub-consciously.

At its most simple, if you don’t like the way your brain works, you can change it. Evidence is also now irrefutable that such activities can stave off the onset of dementia, or slow its progress, and having watched two people die of it, and well aware of one’s own ageing process, that should be reason enough to take action.

Meditate. Be calm. If you can’t manage calm, then cultivate calmer.

Consciously think differently. Do some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to correct unhelpful thought patterns and emotions. Play brain games. Do crosswords or Sudoku. Simply sit, and think, constructively. It all works. Go on – try it.

The following article is from LiveScience

Throughout life, even shortly before death, the brain can remodel itself, responding to a person’s experiences. This phenomenon, known as neuroplasticity, offers a powerful tool to improve well-being, experts say.

“We now have evidence that engaging in pure mental training can induce changes not just in the function of the brain, but in the brain’s structure itself,” Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told an audience at the New York Academy of Sciences on Thursday (Feb. 6) evening.

The brain’s plasticity does change over time, Davidson pointed out. For instance, young children have an easier time learning a second language or a musical instrument, he said.

Exercise for the mind

The idea of training the brain is not a radical one, said Amishi Jha, a neuroscientist at the University Miami and another panelist for the discussion.

“How many of you think engaging in certain kinds of physical activity will change the way the body works? Our cultural understanding now is that specific types of activity can alter the body in noticeable ways,” Jha said, adding that this cultural understanding may be shifting to incorporate the mind as well. [10 Easy Ways to Keep Your Mind Sharp]

The panel discussion focused on a particular type of exercise: the practice of mindfulness, which panelist Jon Kabat-Zinn, a clinical mindfulness expert at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defined as awareness.

“Mindfulness is awareness that arises from paying attention in the present moment, nonjudgmentally,” Kabat-Zinn said.

Jha’s personal interest in mindfulness arose from stress. As a young professor and mother under pressure from her job and family life, she ground her teeth so much that it caused numbness, interfering with her ability to speak. Jha attended a presentation Davidson gave and was startled to hear him say meditation, which cultivates mindfulness, could promote a positive pattern of electrical activity in the brain.

“I was like, ‘I can’t believe he used that word [meditation] in this auditorium,'” she said. “I had never heard it in a scientific context.”

So, Jha began her own mindfulness practice, which not only reduced her stress level, but also inspired her to explore the topic as a neuroscientist.

Opening the door

There are many doors into mindfulness, said Kabat-Zinn. He gave two examples: A person can practice mindfulness by focusing on something, such as his or her own breath, and bringing his or her attention back to the breath when it begins to wander, Kabat-Zinn said.

It is also possible to practice awareness without choosing a particular object upon which to focus; however, “that turns out to be quite a challenging thing to do,” he said.

Cultivating mindfulness like this can help break harmful cycles, such as those that accompany depression, in which the mind continues to repeat the same negative thoughts.

“When you see you are not your thoughts or your emotions, then you have a whole different palette of ways to be,” Kabat-Zinn said.

Roots in the East

Many would say mindfulness as it is practiced in Western society has its roots in the East, in Buddhism, noted moderator Steve Paulsonof the public radio program “To the Best of Our Knowledge.”

“Is mindfulness a spiritual practice?” Paulson asked the panelists.

“For me, I don’t talk about spirituality, because I don’t know what spiritual means,” the University of Wisconsin’s Davidson said. “I think what we’re talking about is part of every human being’s innate capacity.”

Buddhist monks, whom Davidson has studied, provide a “sample of convenience,” a group of people who have all received the same training, an important consideration for research, he said.

The neuroscience

Brain scans of meditating people show different patterns of activity depending on the practitioner’s level of experience. These patterns also differ depending upon the type of meditation practice used, Davidson said. [Mind Games: 7 Reasons You Should Meditate]

Work in Davidson’s lab indicates a connection between meditation and resilience. A response to stress (as with chronic anxiety, OCD, and other issues) becomes problematic when someone perseverates – or has a stressful emotional reaction – long after the problem has ended. In the brain, this shows up as the prolonged activation of a region known as the amygdala.

Mindfulness can increase the speed of recovery in the amygdala, and the more hours of formal practice people have, the faster their amygdalas recover, the data indicate, Davidson said.