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Why We Need to Retool "Use It Or Lose It": Healthy Brain Aging

Why We Need to Retool "Use It Or Lose It": Healthy Brain Aging

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This 4-page article, written by Alvaro Fernandez, is published in the July/ August 2009 issue of The Journal of Active Aging. All rights reserved (copyright information at bottom of this description).

An excerpt:

"By now you have probably heard about
brain plasticity, the lifelong capacity of
the brain to change and rewire itself in
response to the stimulation of learning
and experience. The latest scientific
research shows that specific lifestyles and
actions can improve the health and level
of functioning of our brains, no matter
our age.

Of particular importance to maintaining
cognitive functioning through life are the
hippocampus (deep inside the brain, part
of what is called the limbic system),
which plays a role in learning and memory;
and the frontal lobes (behind your
forehead), which are key to maintaining
decision-making and autonomy. Is there
a way to physically protect these parts of
the aging brain? Yes. But the right answer
is far from “do one more crossword puzzle”
or “do more X” (whatever X is). The
key is to add significantly different activities
to ensure a flow of novelty, variety
and challenge, combining physical and
mental exercise while not ignoring factors
such as stress management and balanced
nutrition.

We need, in other words, to retool our
understanding and practice of “Use it or
lose it.” We must focus on the importance
of getting out of our physical and
mental routines and activities to get the
benefits of real exercise—physical and
mental."

--------------------------------------------
Contents copyright ©2009 by the International Council on Active Aging®.All rights reserved. Send permissions requests to Copyright Clearance Center,
www.copyright.com, or in Canada to Access Copyright by emailing rappadu@accesscopyright.ca.
This 4-page article, written by Alvaro Fernandez, is published in the July/ August 2009 issue of The Journal of Active Aging. All rights reserved (copyright information at bottom of this description).

An excerpt:

"By now you have probably heard about
brain plasticity, the lifelong capacity of
the brain to change and rewire itself in
response to the stimulation of learning
and experience. The latest scientific
research shows that specific lifestyles and
actions can improve the health and level
of functioning of our brains, no matter
our age.

Of particular importance to maintaining
cognitive functioning through life are the
hippocampus (deep inside the brain, part
of what is called the limbic system),
which plays a role in learning and memory;
and the frontal lobes (behind your
forehead), which are key to maintaining
decision-making and autonomy. Is there
a way to physically protect these parts of
the aging brain? Yes. But the right answer
is far from “do one more crossword puzzle”
or “do more X” (whatever X is). The
key is to add significantly different activities
to ensure a flow of novelty, variety
and challenge, combining physical and
mental exercise while not ignoring factors
such as stress management and balanced
nutrition.

We need, in other words, to retool our
understanding and practice of “Use it or
lose it.” We must focus on the importance
of getting out of our physical and
mental routines and activities to get the
benefits of real exercise—physical and
mental."

--------------------------------------------
Contents copyright ©2009 by the International Council on Active Aging®.All rights reserved. Send permissions requests to Copyright Clearance Center,
www.copyright.com, or in Canada to Access Copyright by emailing rappadu@accesscopyright.ca.

More info:

Published by: SharpBrains Market Research on Sep 04, 2009
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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04/30/2014

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Cognitive healthTo help older adults protectbrain health and function,add activities that ensure aflow of novelty,variety andchallenge
by Álvaro Fernández, MA, MBA 
By now you have probably heard aboutbrain plasticity, the lifelong capacity of the brain to change and rewire itself inresponse to the stimulation of learningand experience. The latest scientificresearch shows that specific lifestyles andactions can improve the health and levelof functioning of our brains, no matterour age.Of particular importance to maintainingcognitive functioning through life are thehippocampus (deep inside the brain, partof what is called the limbic system), which plays a role in learning and mem-ory; and the frontal lobes (behind yourforehead), which are key to maintainingdecision-making and autonomy. Is therea way to physically protect these parts of the aging brain? Yes. But the right answeris far from “do one more crossword puz-zle” or “do more X” (whatever X is). Thekey is to add significantly different activi-ties to ensure a flow of novelty, variety and challenge, combining physical andmental exercise while not ignoring factorssuch as stress management and balancednutrition.
1
 We need, in other words, to retool ourunderstanding and practice of “Use it orlose it.” We must focus on the impor-tance of 
 getting out of  
our physical andmental routines and activities to get thebenefits of real exercise—physical andmental.
Healthy brain aging: why we need to retool‘Use it or lose it’
 
41
The Journal on Active Aging
G
 July/August 2009
Continued on page 42 
Debunking 10 commonmyths
The extensive research process weundertook for our recent book,
The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness,
1
high-lighted the need to debunk some popularmyths on brain health thatmay hinderefforts in the right direction. Theseinclude:
Myth 1. Genes determine the fate of  our brains.
Facts: Lifelong neuroplasticity allows ourlifestyles and actions to play a meaningfulrole in how our brains physically evolve,especially given longer life expectancy.
Myth 2. Aging means automatic decline.
Facts: There is nothing inherently fixedin the precise trajectory of how brainfunctions evolve as we age.
Myth 3. Medication is the main hope for cognitive enhancement.
Facts: Noninvasive interventions canhave comparable and more durableeffects, side effect-free.
Myth 4. We will soon have a magic pill or  general solution to solve all our cognitive challenges.
Facts: A multipronged approach is rec-ommended, centered around nutrition,stress management, and both physicaland mental exercise.
Myth 5. There is only one “it” in “Use it or lose it.” 
Facts: The brain is composed of a num-ber of specialized units. Our life andproductivity depend on a variety of brain functions, not just one.
Myth 6. All brain activities or exercises are equal.
Facts: Varied and targeted exercises arethe necessary ingredients in brain train-ing, so that a wide range of brain func-tions can be stimulated.
Myth 7. There is only one way to train  your brain.
Facts: Brain functions can be impacted ina number of ways, such as meditation,cognitive therapy and cognitive training.
Myth 8. We all have something called “brain age.” 
There are four types of mental exercise with more supporting scientific evidencethat they can enhance specific brainfunctions.
1
They are:
Cognitive therapy (CT).
The way weperceive our experiences influences ourbehaviors, and we can learn cognitiveskills to modify our thinking, resultingin actions. CT is commonly used inthe context of anxiety and depression,but its core principles and techniquesshow promise in a variety of otherapplications such as healthy eating.
Meditation.
This practice has beenshown to improve specific cognitivefunctions such as attention and emo-tional self-regulation.Facts: Brain age is a fiction. No two indi-viduals have the same brain or expressionof brain functions.
Myth 9. That “brain age” can be reversed by 10, 20, 30 years.
Facts: Brain training can improve specificbrain functions, but, with research avail-able today, cannot be said to roll back one’s “brain age” by a number of years.
Myth 10. All human brains need the same brain training.
Facts: As in physical fitness, users mustask themselves: What functions do I needto improve on? In what timeframe? Whatis my budget? With these facts in mind, let’s delve intodifferent types of mental exercise andhow they benefit the brain.
Exercise requires cross-training and challenge
The most common enemies of novelty,variety and challenge are routine anddoing things inside our comfort zones.This is true for both physical and mentalexercise.Consider the type of mental exerciseexperienced daily by London cab drivers.Every new ride requires a complex men-tal task to decide the most efficient routeto complete the continually novel chal-lenge at hand. Contrast that with theroutine mental activity (we couldn’t really call it “mental exercise”) undertaken by London bus drivers who, day after day,follow a precise itinerary. Clearly, if youlived in London and wanted to protectand even grow your hippocampus, you would choose to drive a cab, not a bus.Of course, the brain has a variety of structures and functions to maintain, well beyond the hippocampus, hence theneed for cross-training. Not all mentalexercise is equal in terms of its structuraland functioning benefits—in the same way that different types of physical fit-ness training bring different benefits.Mental exercise strengthens the synapsesor connections between neurons (nervecells), thus improving neuron survivaland cognitive functioning. Rememberthat “cells that fire together wiretogether.”
Resource
The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: 18 Interviews with Scientists,Practical Advice, and Product Reviews,to Keep Your Brain Sharp 
 Authors: Álvaro Fernández andElkhonon Goldberg, PhDSan Francisco CA: SharpBrains Inc.,May 2009Paperback, 182 pages, $24.95
The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness 
is the result of over a year of extensive research including morethan 100 interviews with scientists,professionals and consumers, and adeep literature review. Among theleading scientists interviewed, ArthurKramer explains the need for walkingbook clubs and Yaakov Stern discussesbuilding cognitive reserve. There is anaccessible introduction to the brainand brain fitness research combined with over 100 references to peer-reviewed scientific studies for deeperstudy. The resource also reviews 21products for brain cross-training, tar-geted mental exercise, and emotionalself-regulation.
 
42
The Journal on Active Aging
G
 July/August 2009
Healthy brain aging: why we needto retool ‘Use it or lose it’
Continued from page 41
Biofeedback.
 A growing number of relatively inexpensive devices canmeasure and graphically display vari-ous physiological variables such asheart rate variability, so that users canlearn to self-adjust and identify andmanage emotions better.
Brain Fitness Software.
These fully automated applications are designedto assess and enhance specific cogni-tive abilities. This is the area that hasexploded since 2007—and where weobserve the most confusion since dif-ferent packages tend to target differentfunctions (e.g., working memory,auditory processing, divided attention)in ways that are not transparent orunderstood by users. Yet, even mental cross-training isn’tenough on its own. What else is neededto maintain the complex system of thebrain?
Brain-friendly living
Forget a magic pill. Healthy brain agingrequires a brain-friendly lifestyle, in addi-tion to mental cross-training. This life-style should at least include:
1
Balanced nutrition.
 As a generalguideline, what is good for the body and heart is also good for the brain.Gingko biloba and other supplementsdo not seem to bring the benefits peo-ple expect.
Stress management.
Chronic stressreduces and can even inhibit neuroge-nesis (the creation of new neurons)and affects memory and other brainfunctions. It is then important tolearn how to manage stress.
Physical exercise.
Physical exerciseimproves cognitive functioningthrough increased blood supply andgrowth hormone levels in the brain.Of all the types of physical exercise,cardiovascular exercise that gets theheart beating has been shown to havethe greatest effect.
Overall mental stimulation.
Cumulated mental stimulationthroughout our lives (via education, jobs, leisure activities) can help builda neuroprotective cognitive reservethat can help delay the onset of  Alzheimer’s-related symptoms.Healthy, active living—with a focus ongood health in all the dimensions of  wellness—is the kind of brain-friendly lifestyle that can help protect cognitivefunction across the life span.
Implications for active-agingprofessionals
 Active aging is one of the areas wherethis type of brain research can make aprofound difference in years to come. While much more research needs to bedone to identify the right type of cogni-tive exercise to improve the daily func-tioning of any given individual, it isbeyond reasonable doubt that novelty,variety and challenge contribute tohealthy brain aging better than commonalternatives (more passive or repetitivepastimes).1.
Target users:
 Who among yourclients is ready and willing to do theprogram? How are they reacting tothe pilot testing of the activities?2.
Cognitive benefits:
 What are thespecific benefits claimed for usingeach program? Under what scenarioof use (how many hours/week, how many weeks)? What specific cogni-tive skill(s) does the program train?How will you measure progress?3.
 Appropriate challenge:
Do the exer-cises adjust to the individual andcontinually vary and challenge resi-dents at an appropriate pace?4.
Scientific credentials:
 Are there sci-entists, ideally neuropsychologists,behind the program? Is there aclearly defined and credible scien-tific advisory board? Are therepublished, peer-reviewed scientificpapers?5.
Return on investment:
 What areyour key objectives, and how will youindependently measure the progressdue to this program to expand, main-tain or change course?6.
Total cost of ownership:
 What may be the total cost of ownership overthe next three to five years if you go with different vendors: upfront fees,ongoing fees, hardware, software,training and support fees, cost of additional modules and staff time?How many clients will likely end upusing the system, and therefore whatis the cost of ownership per user?7.
Technical requirements:
 What arethe technical requirements needed tosuccessfully deploy and maintain theprogram? Does it require anInternet connection? Who willhelp solve potential glitches?8.
Staff training:
 What type of train-ing will you and your staff need,and who will provide it?9.
References:
 What similar organiza-tions have used this specific pro-gram? What proportion of theirclients use it regularly? What bene-fits have they measured and ob-served in their clients, and as anorganization? Is the use of the pro-gram growing, or is it flat ordeclining?10.
Product road map:
 What is theproduct roadmap for this compa-ny? What is the company develop-ing and planning to offer next year,and in two to three years?
SharpBrains’ checklist for providers evaluating brain fitness programs

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