Today I Learn… I make a point of learning something new everyday. This is what I learn each day

1, Apr 13, 2011

Belly and Dementia — the Fatter You are, the More Stupid You will be in Old Age

Filed under: Brain — admin @ 12:22 am

Well, I could put it in a nice way, but that won’t change the fact. A study published in the Annals of Neurology in May 2010 found a link between the protruding belly in middle age and the decline of mental power. The study involved 73 males and females, carried out by folks at the Boston University School of Medicine.

They not only found an association of higher body mass index with reduced total brain volume and one at high risk of senior mental deterioration, but also the strong correlation among people with belly fat. They found, independent of total body weight, an association between belly fat and decreased brain volume. Specifically, individuals with higher amounts of belly fat in their 40s were more likely to exhibit signs of cognitive decline as they got older.

“We have all heard how a beer belly can be bad for our heart, but this study suggests carrying excess abdominal weight could also increase your risk of getting dementia… This is not really surprising as a large stomach is associated with high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes — all major risk factors for dementia.”

Yes, when you pour your energy on jamming good food down your throat, you deprive your brain the energy to keep going. Hence, the bigger your belly gets, the stupid you become. So pathetically true.

1, Apr 7, 2011

“Hold on to the best parts of our youth as the years go by”

Filed under: Brain — admin @ 12:18 am

On 10/13/2010, I read this article on yahoo site, written by Jessica Ashley. The message is loud and clear — to improve your daily intellectual performance and reduce the risk for dementia in years to come, you need to get started right away and develop good brain habits now. Here are these good habits.

1. The key is learning something totally new. Acquiring new skills as we age will help keep us youthful. “Utilizing previously unused areas of the brain as one ages can help slow down, stop, and reverse some signs of brain aging,” e.g. learning a new language, taking music lessons to play a new instrument.

2. Work your body. Data strongly suggests that regular aerobic activity improves human brain power immediately and could protect us from major memory impairment in the long term. Even walking for 45 minutes a few times a week can make a difference.

3. Feed your body, but only until it is 80 percent full. Whether you want to recapture or hang on to your youthfulness, you’re going to have to pay more attention to the food and drink you put into your body. Eating 20% less at meals. Avoid meat and processed food, consume more vegetables.

4. De-stress, and soon. Stress-free is a must if you want to live a longer and healthy life.

5. Keep playing the classic games, just do them faster. Our intellectual skills change as we age, but our deductive reasoning and our base of knowledge improve. The changes and the challenge are that our attention, processing speed, short-term memory, and cognitive flexibility often slow. Regularly exercising mental muscles can help us stay healthier over time. Work on games that challenge our memory. Time yourself with the goal of getting faster each time.

6. Be social, but choose your friends wisely. Many studies have suggested that “being socially isolated has health risks on par with those of cigarette smoking.” It is equally important that you choose “the right tribe” to spend time with people. “…If you dine with people who eat healthy food, you’re more likely to eat healthy food, if the friends you spend most time with play a sport, you’re more likely to join them.”

7. Take control of your life by taking control of your clutter. That is, “the physical, emotional, and cognitive toll possessions can have on older people” To be sure, it is a mental, emotional and physical challenge to de-clutter ourselves from years of accumulation. However, “if we take control of the possessions we keep and validate what the stuff we discard meant about who we once were, we will be better prepared to move forward into the next chapter of our lives.”

I have shared these with my relatives in China and wait for great results.

1, Apr 6, 2011

Six Ways for a Healthy Brain

Filed under: Brain — admin @ 12:06 am

On 1/27/2011, I read an article by Sarah Baldauf, “6 Ways to Protect Yourself Against Alzheimer’s and Dementia.” I was strucken by its simplicity, which makes it nice and easy to remember for people of my mother age.

1. Physical activity
2. Weight control
3. Mental challenges
4. Social connections
5. Healthy diet
6. Chronic disease control

Neil Buckholtz, chief of the dementias of aging branch at the National Institute on Aging, notes that “high blood pressure in old age is a very strong risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s later on, but if you can keep the blood pressure down, that decreases your risk.” And a study published in the journal Dementia & Geriatric Cognitive Disorders found that people in their 40s who had mildly elevated cholesterol were at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life. A sizable body of evidence suggests that type 2 diabetes and heart disease affect the brain and perhaps the development or severity of Alzheimer’s.

1, Apr 3, 2011

Five Areas of Brain Exercise

Filed under: Brain — admin @ 12:49 am

I love reading about brain, especially about having a bright brain. On 2/22/2011, I read about brain exercise from internet. Both parents and children can improve their brain quality by engaging the following areas of brain exercise.

(1) Memory. Having a better memory can help you remember names, find locations, and recall important information more quickly and accurately. Scientists have even tied memory to general intelligence.

(2) Attention. Landmark studies have shown that attention training has a meaningful impact on your ability to perform well on tests, at sports, and in other visually demanding activities. Better attention can also improve your ability to filter out distraction, thus increasing your productivity at work and home. Kids with better attention in class always perform well academically.

(3) Speed. Think fast. Exercising your mental processing speed can help you think more clearly and quickly, improve reaction time, and increase alertness and awareness. Brain speed training can help you become sharper at work, school and throughout your life.

(4) Flexibility. Switch things up with flexible thinking. Flexibility training can make multitasking a breeze, help you articulate your thoughts better, and give you the discipline to resist temptation. Getting better at flexibility can help improve your precision, cognitive control, and even your creative thinking.

(5) Problem Solving. Better problem solving skills can help you make quick, accurate decisions, gain a better ability to make mental estimates, comparisons, and calculations, not to mention more efficient thinking overall. Problem solving represents a diverse category of cognitive skills and abilities. Brain training can help you exercise and improve these abilities.

1, Mar 5, 2011

Physically Active Teens and Old Age Brain

Filed under: Brain — admin @ 12:18 am

A study found an association between teenage active exercise and a reduced risk of old age dementia. The study was carried out by researchers from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Canada, published on 6/30/2010 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. They analyzed exercise habits of 9,344 women from four U.S. states during their teenage years, 30s, 50s, and twilight years.

They found that, independent of factors like education, marital status, diabetes, hypertension, weight, depression, and age, there remained a strong correlation between teen physical activity and reduced risk for cognitive impairment late in life.

Furthermore, they found women who began routine exercise in their 30s and 50s showed lower risk for cognitive impairment as they aged compared with those who were consistently inactive.

The take-home message is nicely given by Laura Middleton, the study’s lead author, “To minimize the risk of dementia, physical activity should be encouraged from early life. Not to be without hope, people who were inactive at teenage can reduce their risk of cognitive impairment by becoming active in later life.” It’s nice to know there is still hope for folks far older than teens.

1, Feb 24, 2011

Retrieval Practice Helps Retain Information Part II

Filed under: Brain — admin @ 12:48 am

A week later all four groups were given a short-answer test to assess their ability to recall facts and draw logical conclusions based on the facts.

Those who took the test retained about 50% more information than those using other study methods. Isn’t that amazing!

“I think that learning is all about retrieving, all about reconstructing our knowledge,” said the lead author, Jeffrey Karpicke, an assistant professor of psychology at Purdue University. “I think that we’re tapping into something fundamental about how the mind works when we talk about retrieval.”

Some explained that the students put up more effort and struggle for a test than they do for normal study. They engage in more active brain work during testing than the relaxing non-test environment. Their intense efforts might have helped them retain information more permanently. It makes sense when considering some students tend to drift away and less focus during normal study, but they have to fully concentrate during test. I would say the power of focus helps in the end.

A Kent State University psychology researcher believes testing gets people to come up with keyword clues, which bridge the gap between the familiar and new information. It strengthens ties between keywords and the newly-learned information.

While the researchers don’t have a definite answer as to why retrieval testing method is better than other ones in retaining information, the experiment does call our attention to one important function of testing, other than evaluating and giving grade reports.

1, Feb 23, 2011

Retrieval Practice Helps Retain Information Part I

Filed under: Brain — admin @ 12:45 am

On 1/20/2011, I read an interesting online report by Jeffrey Karpicke entitled “Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping.” Here’s the abstract of the report.

“Educators rely heavily on learning activities that encourage elaborative studying, while activities that require students to practice retrieving and reconstructing knowledge are used less frequently.

“Here, we show that practicing retrieval produces greater gains in meaningful learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. The advantage of retrieval practice generalized across texts identical to those commonly found in science education. … was observed with test questions that assessed comprehension and required students to make inferences. … occurred even when the criterial test involved creating concept maps. Our findings support the theory that retrieval practice enhances learning by retrieval-specific mechanisms rather than by elaborative study processes. Retrieval practice is an effective tool to promote conceptual learning about science.”

The research involved 200 college students in two experiments. In the first experiment, the students were divided into four groups. One did nothing more than read the text for five minutes. Another studied the passage in four consecutive five-minute sessions. A third group engaged in “concept mapping,” in which, with the passage in front of them, they arranged information from the passage into a kind of diagram, writing details and ideas in hand-drawn bubbles and linking the bubbles in an organized way.

The final group took a “retrieval practice” test. Without the passage in front of them, they wrote what they remembered in a free-form essay for 10 minutes. Then they reread the passage and took another retrieval practice test.
To be continued…

1, Feb 16, 2011

Brain Matters Part IV

Filed under: Brain — admin @ 12:39 am

Because brain matters, we should go extra miles to keep our brain healthy. Below are some of the author’s suggestions.
(a) make positive social connections
(b) healthy diet, high protein diet
(c) take daily vitamin and fish oil
(d) learn music
(e) exercise regularly, aerobic exercise
(f) dancing
(g) engage in positive thinking
(h) positive meditation
(i) get help in organizing, goal setting and time management

Your daily habits and routines are either hurting or helping your brain.

Throughout a person’s life, one should take these steps to a healthy brain:
(1) Protect your amazing but fragile brain
(2) Taking care of younger brains
(3) Boost blood flow — especially important to the brain. It brings all the needed nutrients to the brain.

Remember the saying “Whatever is good to your heart is also good to your brain.” Understand factors that limit blood flow. Improve blood flow is the fountain of youth.

(4) Increase your brain’s reserve. The more the brain reserves, the more one can handle stress.
(5) Maintain the brain hardware.

(6) Lastly and most importantly, your ability to control your life is directly tied to the health of your brain.

1, Feb 13, 2011

Brain Matters Part III

Filed under: Brain — admin @ 12:54 am

The book provides a brain system questionnaire. The more yes you have for the following questions, the more trouble you have with your brain, which means the more you need to work on your brain.

(1) Have trouble sustaining attention
(2) Lack attention to detail
(3) Easily distracted
(4) Tend to procrastinate
(5) Lack clear goals
(6) Are restless
(7) Have difficulty expressing empathy for others
(8) Blurt out answers before question has been completed, interrupt frequently
(9) Are impulsive, say or do things without thinking
(10) Need caffeine to focus
(11) Get struck on negative thoughts
(12) Are worried
(13) Have tendency toward compulsive/addictive behavior
(14) Hold grudges
(15) Become upset when things do not go your way
(16) Become upset when things are out of place
(17) Have tendency to be oppositional or argumentative
(18) Dislike change
(19) Become upset if things are not done in a certain way
(20) Have trouble seeing options in situations
(21) Feel sad easily
(22) Are often negative
(23) Often feel bored
(24) Feel dissatisfied
(25) Have low energy
(26) Experience decreased interest in things that are once fun and pleasure
(27) Experience feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness or guilt
(28) Have crying spells
(29) Have chronic low self-esteem
(30) Experience social isolation
(31) Feel nervousness and anxiety
(32) Experience feelings of panic
(33) Have symptom of heightened muscle tension, headache…
(34) Tend to predict the worst will happen
(35) Avoid conflict
(36) Have excessive fear of being judged or scrutinized by others
(37) Have excessive motivation, trouble stopping working
(38) Lack confidence
(39) Always watch for something bad to happen
(40) Are prone to quick startles
(41) Have a short fuse
(42) Experience periods of heightened irritability
(43) Misinterpret comments as negative when they are not
(44) Experience frequent periods of deja vu (feeling of being somewhere you have never been before)
(45) Display sensitivity or mild paranoia
(46) Experience dark thoughts
(47) Undergo periods of forgetfulness or memory problems
(48) Have trouble finding the right word to say
(49) Have poor handwriting
(50) Have trouble maintaining an organized work area

1, Feb 11, 2011

Brain Matters Part II

Filed under: Brain — admin @ 12:45 am

The following problems are related to poorly-developed prefrontal cortex.
(1) short attention span
(2) lack clear goals or forward thinking
(3) impulsive
(4) disorganization
(5) procrastination
(6) poor judgment
(7) unable to give close attention to detail
(8) lack of insight
(9) cannot learn from mistakes
(10) easily distracted

According to the author, keeping your brain sharp and healthy is prerequisite to good behavior. Hence, we should avoid the following behavior that will cause havoc to your brain.
(a) excessive alcohol
(b) drug abuse
(c) negative thinking
(d) poor diet
(e) chronic stress
(f) lack of sleep
(g) lack of exercise
(h) excessive caffeine
(i) too much TV or violent video games
(j) smoking

1, Feb 10, 2011

Brain Matters Part I

Filed under: Brain — admin @ 12:40 am

I took my daughter to Barnes & Noble’s on 12/29/2010 when I had the week off to be with the children. While she was there, I took up a book called Magnificent Mind at Any Age: Natural Ways to Unlease Your Brain’s Maximum Potential by Daniel Amen. It is an interesting read with many picture of MRI images of brain.

The main theme of the book is mind (will power, self-discipline, ability to focus, high performance, concentration) and brain (physical one) are interdependent. Brain needs nutrients, exercise and proper thinking strategies to support a sound mind. Very often, failure results from a brain gone wrong.

“It all starts with your brain: how you think, how you feel, how you interact with others, and how well you succeed in realizing your goals and dreams. …The tough-love, kick-in-the-butt approach works for some people, but it leaves countless others feeling demoralized, hopeless and unworthy.”

Specifically, the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the part of our brain that makes us most human with forethought, judgment, impulse, control, learning from our mistakes, and maturity. The PFC does not finish developing until mid-20s. Poorly-developed PFC is associated with ADD, anxiety, depression, addiction, and anger. People with well-developed PFC are thoughtful, creative, energetic, focused and effective.
To be continued…

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