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Top 7 FAQs on Brain Plasticity and Cognitive Fitness for Life

Copyright (c) 2009 SharpBrains

What does "brain fitness" mean? and what about "brain plasticity"?

These two concepts seem to be everywhere in the media these days, and were nowhere to be seen a few years ago.

What do they mean? How can they help me?

We just polled over a thousand people about their main questions on neuroplasticity and brain fitness. I have selected and answered the 7 most common ones below. I hope you enjoy the FAQ session.

Q: What exactly does neuroplasticity mean, and why is it so important for education and health?

A: Learning changes your brain physically. Neuroplasticity or brain plasticity refers to the brain's ability to CHANGE throughout life. The brain has the amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells (neurons). Until recently, scientists thought that the brains of adults were pretty much fixed, rigid. Research has shown that in fact the brain never stops changing through learning.

Q. I read a lot about supplement, exercise, different brain training products...where do I start.

A. You are not alone. We recommend focusing on four pillars of brain fitness: physical exercise, a balanced diet, stress management, and brain exercise. Stress management is important since stress has been shown to actually kill neurons and reduce the rate of creation of new ones. Brain exercises range from low-tech (i.e. meditation, mastering new complex skills, lifelong learning and engagement) to high-tech (i.e. using the growing number of brain fitness software programs).

Q. Everyone seems obsessed with brain games. What about meditation?

A. As Daniel Goleman recently pointed out, "the good news is that we can grow our willpower; like a muscle, the more we use it, the more it gradually increases over time. But doing this takes, of all things, willpower." Mindfulness training has been shown to be an effective practice to drive neuroplasticity and build attention, so it an important part of the mix.

Q. Do brain training exercises and cognitive training programs work?

A. As a category, it certainly seems so, as long as we ask the right questions: Which programs?, Work For Whom, Work For What?. Brain training is a complex field, as companies and newspapers often make contradictory claims. These claims are often based on press releases, without a deeper evaluation of the scientific evidence. In summary, I'd say that research has shown how training can help healthy adults improve specific cognitive skills, and improvements seem to last longer than the training itself. Not only that, but cognitive training seems to help adults in the early stages of cognitive impairment and even Alzheimer's Disease. Now, not all programs do the same, so consumers and professionals must make well-informed decisions. There are no magic pills out there.

Q. So this is more serious than "brain games" like Nintendo Brain Age?

A: Nintendo did indeed create consumer awareness for brain games, but brain training has solid roots in neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience. It is often said that new neuroimaging methods have changed neuroscience in the same way that the telescope changed astronomy: scientists now understand much better than only 20 years ago what haappens inside the brain of a live person.

Q. What about neurofeedback?

A. After many years of more hope than good science, several scientific studies published in 2009 are starting to how how neurofeedback can be effective, for example to help diagnose and treat attention deficits.

Q. Based on all this, how can one improve memory?

A. The most important thing to realize is that the brain does more than "memory". For example, if I don't pay attention to something, how can I expect to remember it later? By choosing to attend to something and focus on it, you create a personal interaction with it, which gives it personal meaning, making it easier to remember. So, programs that build our perception and attention abilities can in fact help improve our memory.

Let me give you an example: can you draw from memory both sides of a penny? Please try, adding all the details that you can remember.

Now go get a real penny and compare. Did you remember all the details? did you draw them in the right location? Most likely not, despite having had thousands of penny coins in your hands for years.

In summary, then, brain fitness means having the mental abilities (such as attention and memory) required to thrive in our lives and jobs. Neuroplasticity means that, with the proper attention and training, we can improve our brain fitness, no matter where we start!

About Author Alvaro Fernandez :

Alvaro Fernandez is the CEO of SharpBrains, an organization whose mission is to provide high-quality information and guidance for cognitive health and brain fitness. Alvaro is a member of the World Economic Forum's Council on The Future of the Aging Society, and teaches at UC-Berkeley Lifelong Learning Institute. He has an MBA and an MA in Education from Stanford University. To learn more, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>

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Article Added on Saturday, November 7, 2009
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