Posts Tagged ‘brain fitness’

Get Moving to Delay Dementia

May 15, 2013

Reducing Alzheimer’s risk factors like obesity, diabetes, smoking and low physical activity by just 25 percent could prevent up to half a million cases of the disease in the United States.

Experts believe that if you do only one thing to keep your brain young, it would be to exercise. Higher exercise levels can reduce dementia risk by 30 to 40 percent compared with low activity levels. Physically active people tend to maintain better cognition and memory than inactive people, and also have substantially lower rates of different forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Working outweighttraining1 helps the hippocampus, the region of the brain involved in memory formation. The hippocampus shrinks as we age, leading to memory loss. Research suggests that exercise can reverse the shrinking process.

Experts recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate activity, but even as little as 15 minutes of regular exercise three times a week can be beneficial to the brain.

One study found that older women who participated in a weight training program did 13 percent better in terms of cognitive function than women who did balance and toning exercises. Researchers believe that resistance training may increase the levels of growth factors in the brain.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ customized tutoring programs by calling Dr. Stewart today at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit the Optiminds website at: optimindsct.com.

Eat Smart for a Healthier Brain—Part II

May 5, 2013

While the modern American diet is increasing the incidence of obesity and diabetes, it is also wreaking havoc on our brains. Here are more “superfoods” you can add to your daily diet to help increase your odds of maintaining a healthy brain for the rest of your life.

Whole grains—Oatmeal, whole-grain breads, brown rice and wheat germ are just a few examples of whole grains that can reduce the risk for heart disease. They promote cardiovascular health, meaning good blood flow to your body’s organ system, which includes your brain.

Beans—Often unappreciated for its health benefits, the humble bean stabilizes glucose (blood sugar) levels. While the brain is dependent on glucose for fuel, it cannot store glucose.  It relies on a steady stream of energy, which beans can provide. Any beans will do, especially lentils and black beans.

Pomegranate juice—With its potent antioxidant benefits, pomegranate juice helps protect the brain from the damage of free radicals. And no part of the body is more sensitive to the damage from free radicals than the brain.

greentea2Freshly brewed tea—Tea contains potent antioxidants, especially the class known as catechines, which promote healthy blood flow.  In addition, the modest amount of caffeine in tea can boost brain power by enhancing memory, focus, and mood.

Dark chocolate—In addition to powerful antioxidant properties, dark chocolate contains several natural stimulants, including caffeine, which enhance focus and concentration, and stimulate the production of endorphins, which helps improve mood. It is best to limit your intake to one-half ounce to 1 ounce a day.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ customized tutoring programs by calling Dr. Stewart today at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit the Optiminds website at: optimindsct.com.

Eat Smart for a Healthier Brain—Part I

April 25, 2013

There is a lot of focus these days on how much food we consume. We should also be aware of what kind of foods we are consuming, especially when it comes to our brain health. While the modern American diet is increasing the incidence of obesity and diabetes, it is also wreaking havoc on our brains.

The brain is the most metabolically active organ in the body. There is mounting evidence that feeding the brain healthy foods can help us maintain a healthy brain well into our old age.

Adding some “superfoods” to your daily diet can help increase your odds of maintaining a healthy brain for the rest of your life. Here are some suggestions:

blueberries1Blueberries—Fresh or frozen, adding blueberries to your diet can help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Studies have shown that diets rich in blueberries significantly improved both the learning capacity and motor skills of aging rats, making them mentally equivalent to much younger rats.

Wild salmon—A “clean” fish in plentiful supply, salmon is rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are essential for brain function. Omega-3s also contain anti-inflammatory substances. Other oily fish that provide the benefits of omega-3s are sardines and herring.

Nuts and seeds—Just an ounce a day of nuts and seeds can boost vitamin E levels to lessen cognitive decline as you get older. The choice is wide: walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed, and unhydrogenated nut butters such as peanut butter, almond butter, and tahini. Raw or roasted doesn’t matter; choose unsalted if you need to restrict sodium.

Avocados—While the avocado is a fatty fruit, it has monounsaturated fat, which contributes to healthy blood flow, which contributes to a healthy brain. Avocados also help with hypertension, a risk factor for the decline of cognitive abilities.

See our May 5, 2003 post for Part II.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ customized tutoring programs by calling Dr. Stewart today at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit the Optiminds website at: optimindsct.com.

Everyday Tips for Maintaining and Improving Your Brain

March 25, 2013

Spring is here and it’s a great time to sweep out the mental cobwebs and get your brain in shape. Here are some tips you can implement every day to keep you and your brain on track.

  • Appreciate your brain as a living, constantly changing entity.
  • Nourish your brain with good food. The brain weighs only 2 percent of body mass but consumes over 20 percent of the oxygen and nutrients we take in. The benefits of eating well extend to your brain as well as your body.
  • Your brain benefits from physical activity. Physical exercise enhances neurogenesis, which is the growth of new neurons in the brain.
  • Think positive, future-oriented thoughts. Eventually, they will become your default mindset. Stress and anxiety can kill neurons and subdue the growth of new neurons.
  • Challenge yourself mentally. The point of having a brain is to learn and adapt to new environments. Once you grow new neurons, where and how long they survive in your brain depends on how you use them.
  • Aim high. Always keep learning. The brain keeps developing , no matter your age, and it reflects what you do with it.
  • Be an explorer and traveler. Adapting to new locations forces you to pay more attention to your environment and make new decisions.
  • Don’t outsource your brain to media personalities, politicians or other people. Make your own decisions and your own mistakes—and learn from them.
  • Develop and maintain stimulating friendships. Humans are social animals and need social interaction to thrive.
  • Laugh often, especially to cognitively complex humor.

Above all, practice. Practicing these suggestions every day will turn them into internalized, unstoppable habits.

Concerned about maintaining your mental capacity? Check out our Optiminds Brain fitness programs that take brain performance to new levels by strengthening nerve cells, plus improving cognitive and concentration power. Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has been helping to improve the cognitive skills of clients of all ages. Call us today at (248) 496-0150 or email us at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit our website at www.optimindsct.com.

Try These Mind Games for Mental Fitness

February 15, 2013

brainexercising1If, like many of us, you are a little nervous about your ability to remember things or stay focused on a project or activity, here are a few exercises you might want to try to keep your brain’s cognitive functions—memory, attention, language, visual/spatial skills and executive function—in good shape.

  • When listening to music, choose a song you don’t know and memorize the lyrics. This boosts the level of acetylcholine, the chemical that helps build your brain.
  • Shower or get dressed in the dark, or use your opposite hand to brush your teeth. These changes help build new associations between different neural connections of the brain.
  • Change your route to work or reorganize your desk. These simple changes will force your brain to wake up from habits and pay attention again.
  • Combine activities like listening to an audio book with jogging, or doing math in your head while you drive. This will force your brain to work at doing more in the same amount of time
  • Walk into a room and pick out five items and their locations. When you exit the room, try to recall all five items and where they were located. Wait two hours and try to remember those items and their locations.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ customized tutoring programs by calling Dr. Stewart today at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit the Optiminds website at www.optimindsct.com.

Eating to Improve Brain Power—Part 2

December 22, 2012

With New Year’s resolution time coming up fast, now is a great time to refresh your knowledge about which foods can give you a boost in terms of brain power. Here, in Part 2 of “Eating to Improve Brain Power,” we continue our list of good bets for foods that will give you a “cognitive” edge.

Caffeine. This mild stimulant found in coffee improves mental acuity, which might explain why coffee enthusiasts guzzle 120,000 tons of the stuff each year. Also, coffee’s antioxidant richness helps maintain brain health. And some research suggests that drinking coffee can actually stave off depression in women.

Spinach. Spinach is rich in the antioxidant lutein, which is thought to help protect against cognitive decline. A Harvard Medical School study found that women who reported eating the most leafy green and cruciferous vegetables had a markedly lower rate of cognitive decline, compared to those who ate the least.

Dark Chocolate. Antioxidant-rich dark chocolate is healthy for your whole body, but its caffeine content is thought to play a role in maintaining mental acuity. Chocolate is rich in flavonoids, a class of antioxidant that helps to improve blood flow (and thus brain health) by regulating cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.

Avocados. Avocados are full of monounsaturated fats that improve vascular health and blood flow, making them another brain food.

Water. When a person becomes dehydrated, their brain tissue actually shrinks. Studies have shown that dehydration can affect cognitive function and impair short-term memory, focus and decision making.

Wheat Germ. Wheat germ is a rich vegetarian source of choline, a nutrient involved in the body’s production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that boosts memory. Eggs are another good choline source.

Beets. Beets are a good source of naturally-occurring nitrates, which help improve blood flow to the brain.

Garlic. Garlic may help stave off some forms of brain cancer, according to research published in Cancer, the medical journal of the American Cancer Society. Investigators found that certain compounds in garlic actually worked to kill glioblastoma cells—a type of malignant tumor cell.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ customized tutoring programs by calling Dr. Stewart today at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit the Optiminds website at www.optimindsct.com.

Eating to Improve Brain Power—Part 1

December 15, 2012

Study after study has found a relationship between what we put in our mouths and how well we can perform important thinking and memory tasks. In addition to considering which specific nutrients may help brain function, we also need to look at the totality of our diets. A recent British study found that a diet high in saturated fat actually caused damage to neurons that control energy and appetite in mice. Other studies have shown that when we eat our meals can be a factor in our performance.

Doctors say cognitive abilities can start dropping in your 40s. But there’s mounting evidence that what you eat can help improve brain function right now.

In this blog post (Part 1) and the next on December 15 (Part 2), we list some of the foods that have been shown to improve brain function, protect against age-associated cognitive decline and encourage focus and clarity. Hopefully, you will find some of your favorites among them.

Walnuts. Walnuts are chock-full of heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory nutrients, and are the only good nut source of alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which helps promote blood flow, which in turn allows for efficient delivery of oxygen to the brain.

Olive Oil. Olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to actually slow brain aging.

Berries. A recent study published in the Annals of Neurology found that a diet high in blueberries, strawberries and other berries was linked to a slower mental decline in areas like memory and focus in a large sample of middle-aged women.

Sardines. Fatty fishes like sardines and salmon are a well-known brain booster, thanks to the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, which have been linked to lower risk of dementia, improved focus and memory. Sunflower seeds might be a good alternative.

For more brain superfoods, see our blog post for December 15, 2012.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ customized tutoring programs by calling Dr. Stewart today at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit the Optiminds website at www.optimindsct.com.

Is Physical Exercise Better Than Mental Activity for Keeping Your Cognitive Edge?

November 15, 2012

Many people believe that doing crossword puzzles can keep the brain sharp, and even prevent Alzheimer’s. That may be well and good, but researchers are finding that regular physical exercise in old age may protect the brain from age-related decline better than engaging in more intellectual pursuits.

Researchers examined the medical records of 638 people from Scotland born in 1936. At age 70, the participants filled out questionnaires detailing their exercise habits as well as how often they engaged in stimulating mental and social activities. When they turned 73, the scientists took MRIs of their brains and matched their size, as well as any changes in the volume of white matter, which makes up the web of nerves that connect various brain regions, to the volunteers’ questionnaire answers.

The participants reported a range of physical activity, from household chores to heavy exercise or playing competitive sports several times a week. Over the three years, those who exercised the most had the largest brains, and showed the least shrinkage in white matter compared to those who were the least active. The study  showed no real benefit to participating in mentally and socially stimulating activities on brain size, as seen on MRI scans, over the three-year timeframe.

Additionally, four studies presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver also found that elderly adults who exercised regularly, including taking walks, working with light weights and aerobic training, had fewer “senior moments” and improved memory than those who were more sedentary.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds recommends a combination of physical and mental activity for optimal cognitive health. Optiminds specializes in helping people of all ages improve their cognitive skills. For more information on Optiminds programs, contact Dr. Jane Stewart at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And visit the Optiminds website at: www.optimindsct.com

Cognitive Training May Make Seniors More Open to New Experiences

October 22, 2012

In addition to declines in cognitive abilities, including working memory and inductive reasoning, aging is often accompanied by changes in personality, such as shifts in openness or willingness to seek out new and cognitively challenging experiences. While a number of interventions have been designed to enrich cognitive functioning in older adults, little has been done to develop openness.

A study conducted on older adults involving 16 weeks of training in inductive reasoning demonstrated that participants were more willing to try new activities than a control group. The intervention consisted of a classroom-based inductive reasoning training program that focused on novel pattern recognition. Participants also did home-based Sudoku and crossword puzzles. Puzzle sets were matched to each person’s skill level based on his performance during the previous week, and increased in difficulty when appropriate.

Participants underwent personality trait and inductive reasoning tests before, during, and after the study. The authors reported that post-test openness scores were higher for the training group than for the control group.

The “use it or lose it” tag is often attributed to these types of studies and the results of the study suggest that “using it” also can lead people to view themselves as more open; openness to experience is linked to better health and decreased mortality risk.

The brain is a muscle and responds to strengthening and conditioning just like any other muscle in the body. If it doesn’t get exercise, it gets out of shape. At Optiminds, our focus is on helping you maintain your mental capacity as you grow older. Our brain fitness programs for seniors take brain performance to new levels by strengthening nerve cells and improving cognitive and concentration power. This helps you to get your life back so you can start living again.

Ask us about our Senior Brain Fitness Classes, every Tuesday at 1:00 at our Southfield location.

Dr. Jane Stewart specializes in helping people of all ages improve their cognitive skills at two locations: The Brain Development Center in Novi and Optiminds in Southfield. Contact Dr. Jane Stewart at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com.

You can learn more about the Brain Development Center at: http://novipsych.com/brain_development and Optiminds at: www.optimindsct.com.

Brain Plasticity

October 8, 2012

You may have heard that the brain is “plastic.” Actually, brain plasticity or neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change throughout life. Our brains have the amazing ability to reorganize by forming new connections between brain cells (neurons).

Factors that play a role in plasticity include genetic factors, the environment in which we live and our actions.

Neuroplasticity occurs in instances such as: the beginning of life when the immature brain organizes itself; in the case of brain injury when the brain compensates for lost functions or to maximize remaining functions; and throughout adulthood when we learn and memorize new things.

One of the consequences of neuroplasticity is that the brain activity associated with a given function can move to a different location, such as when the functions of brain areas killed as the result of a stroke transfer themselves to a healthy region of the brain. The brain compensates for damage by reorganizing and forming new connections between intact neurons, usually when the neurons are stimulated through activity.

Research shows that the brain never stops changing through learning. And when you become an expert in a specific domain, the areas in your brain that deal with this type of skill will grow. Examples: the left inferior parietal cortex is larger in people who are bilingual than in people who speak only one language; the cortex volume is larger in professional musicians compared to non-musicians.

It’s never too late to boost your brain’s plasticity. Dr. Stewart and staff help students of all ages improve their study, reading and cognitive skills—now at two locations: The Brain Development Center in Novi and Optiminds in Southfield. Contact Dr. Jane Stewart at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com.

You can learn more about the Brain Development Center at: http://novipsych.com/brain_development and Optiminds at: www.optimindsct.com.


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