Weekend better brain health update: Friends, Lovers, Puzzles, and Music

Here is a nice collection of brain health information for your weekend reading pleasure. The article nicely ties together a wide range of latest neuroscience and brain health news and makes it all flow together. Go take a read but my hint is – being soical is good for your health.

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Aging of the body and the brain – why does one lag behind the other

Here is a post that examines an interesting question about aging: does our body and mind age at the same rate and time at a functional level?

Go over to the site to check out the nice graphs. But basically they show that more many cogntive activities we reach a peak in our early 50’s. Howevere, when the writer explores physical working capacity he provides graphs that we peak in our late 30’s. Really do go over and check the graphs on aging this will make more sense.

For physical working capacity they used half-marathon times for both males and females – and this is probably as good as any measurement. You could argue it should have been more of a strength measurement compared to an endurance event like a half-marathon but probably large data sets can be obtained for running events compared to something like a person’s squat strength.

For mental capacity the graph provided displays several cognitive functions and several of them do appear to peak in the late 40’s or mid 50’s. 

What the author then wonders about is the differene it timing of the decline in ability, with running ability starting to decline by around 37 but mental ability not until 52. A 15 year or so difference. Our body’s physical ability is breaking down quite a few years earlier than our mental function. I thought this was very interesting – and I like what the author summarized it:

“What I wonder, and would be interesting to test, is are the two related at the individual level? As in if we took a sample of people and recorded their work capacity every year or so along with their mental capacity would we see a 15 to 20 year lag between the drop of physical capacity and mental ability?

Obviously, there are going to be individual differences of when physical ability starts to decline, and at what rate. Could we use the physical capacity measurements to predict mental decline, and would it occur at the same rate, just 15-20 years delayed for each individual?

There is evidence suggesting that physical and mental decline are correlated in general, but I will leave that for another post.”




Go out there and keep your mind and body fit.

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Fructose makes us gain weight because of what it does to our brain

Part of good health, including brain health, is maintaiing a lean fit body. But there is a large problem in the world with the rise of obesity. One theory for the cause of this rise over the last several decades is the increased consumption of fructose.

Now researchers have found new clues to how fructose might be linked to the observed increase weight gain. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (f MRI) to examine the difference parts of our brain when consuming fructose versus sucrose. 

Brain activity in the hypothalamus, one brain area involved in regulating food intake, was not affected by either fructose or glucose. However, activity in the cortical brain control areas showed the opposite response during infusions of the sugars. Activity in these areas was inhibited when fructose was given but activated during glucose infusion.

Now we already know from animal studies that fructose leads to increased weight gain, but now it appears that the reason behind it may involved the opposite results found in activation levels in the cortical brain areas – depending on if the subjects received glucose or fructose.

Bottom line – try to reduce your fructose intake.

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We know one indicator of good brain health is maintaining your memory ability. Now research indicates that having a memory problem might also be a risk factor for future stroke:

Those who scored in the bottom 20 percent for verbal fluency were 3.6 times more likely to develop a stroke than those who scored in the top 20 percent. For the memory test, those who scored in the bottom 20 percent were 3.5 times more likely to have a stroke than those in the top 20 percent. The difference in stroke incidence rates between those with the bottom and top 20 percent of scores was 3.3 strokes per thousand person-years. In general, the differences remained after researchers adjusted for age, education, race and where participants lived.

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Mindful meditation can reverse brain aging – just like exercise

We know that exercise can help reverse brain aging, and reverse the normal shrinkage of the brain in older subects, can mindful meditation also produce similar effects?

In this blog post the author describes the results of a recent mindful meditation experiment:

The study we will discuss today used 8 weeks of meditative training and practice and the researchers examined the size of various brain regions (using a brain scan) and compared the meditators versus a control group at the end of the 8 week time period, compared to their results before the experiment started.

And the results of a mere 8 weeks of mediation was reported as:

Similar to the walking study they scanned all of the subject’s brains before the start of this experiment and again at the end (in this case 8 weeks). What the researchers found was that the mindfulness group had a greater brain volume change than the control group:


“You can see in these four brain regions depicted in the graphs above the mindfulness trained group have greater positive changes in their selected brain volumes compared to the control group.

You might also notice that in the control group not all of these brain regions shrank as you might have thought based on the previous study we discussed. But compared to the study we talked about last week these subjects were younger (38 vs in the walking study an average age of 67) and the time period was shorter (8 weeks vs 1 year).

In the walking study they found a difference in the hippocampus size which is important for memory formation. This mindfulness study also examined this important region and found a difference between the groups for the left hippocampus, with the mindfulness group displaying better results.”



Hence, it appears that mindful meditation can also protect the brain from the gray matter brain loss that normally occurs with aging, and in some cases reverse it. So try meditation and through in some exercise and you will do great work for your brain health.




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How love makes you blind

An normal and important part of a healthy brain includes being in love. But what does being in love do to our brains. Probably many things as we all have felt. But new research indicates that being in love can deactivate certain judgemental parts of our brains when we are looking at our loved one. Physorg had a nice write up that I thought summed up the paper:

The studies also showed that there is extensive de-activation of large parts of the cerebral cortex when lovers – whether heterosexual or homosexual or whether female or male – view pictures of their romantic partners. The de-activated areas involve parts of the temporal, parietal and frontal cortex and include cortical areas thought to be critical in judgment. This may account for why we are often less judgmental about our lovers and lends credence to the old adage “love is blind”.


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Obesity rates have doubled since 1980 – and some other interesting data

One important aspect of brain health is to keep fit and at a healthy weight. However, over the last several decades people in the developed nations have been packing on the weight. This will have an adverse outcome on your general brain health – including dementia, and other neurodegenerative brain diseases.

A series of papers were released in the Lancet journal on obesity, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Escience news does a good job at summarizing the results including telling us worldwide obesity rates have doubled since 1980.

I found some of these specific body mass index (BMI) results quite interesting:


  • In 2008, 9.8 per cent of men and 13.8 per cent of women in the world were obese (with a BMI above 30 kg/m2), compared with 4.8 per cent for men and 7.9 per cent for women in 1980.

  • Pacific island nations have the highest average BMI in the world, reaching 34-35 kg/m2, up to 70 per cent higher than some countries in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

  • Among high income countries, USA has the single highest BMI (over 28 kg/m2 for men and women), followed by New Zealand. Japan has the lowest BMI (about 22 kg/m2 for women and 24 kg/m2 for men), followed by Singapore.

  • Among high-income countries, between 1980 and 2008, BMI rose most in USA (by more than 1 kg/m2/decade), followed by New Zealand and Australia for women and followed by UK and Australia for men. Women in a few Western European countries had virtually no rise in BMI.

  • The UK has the sixth highest BMI in Europe for women and ninth highest for men (both around 27 kg/m2).

  • Turkish women and Czech men have the highest BMI in Europe (both around 28 kg/m2). Swiss women had the lowest BMI in Europe (around 24 kg/m2).


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Do you need a thinking cap?

New research indicates that by using small amounts of electrical stimulation you can increase to increase insight – which would helps solve problems, and potentially increase creativity.

A good healthy brain should be creative, and there are a number of ways you can stimulate this activity. You need to open up your mind, and be exposed to new things. But maybe if you don’t want to go that route you could in the future try an electrical “thinking cap”.

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Save your most important memories – but getting enough sleep

An important aspect of good brain health is getting adequate sleep.

Some information is more important that other. And when we get adequate sleep we store the information that is most important for our future.

We all take in huge amount of information every day, but what is important and what should be thrown away? New research indicates that all this gets sorted out in our sleep.

“Our results show that memory consolidation during sleep indeed involves a basic selection process that determines which of the many pieces of the day’s information is sent to long-term storage,” Born said. “Our findings also indicate that information relevant for future demands is selected foremost for storage.”

But then the researchers had to test if a reduction of sleep would alter the memory of useful information.

“The researchers set up two experiments to test memory retrieval in a total of 191 volunteers. In the first experiment, people were asked to learn 40 pairs of words. Participants in the second experiment played a card game where they matched pictures of animals and objects — similar to the game Concentration — and also practiced sequences of finger taps.

In both groups, half the volunteers were told immediately following the tasks that they would be tested in 10 hours. In fact, all participants were later tested on how well they recalled their tasks.

Some, but not all, of the volunteers were allowed to sleep between the time they learned the tasks and the tests. As the authors expected, the people who slept performed better than those who didn’t. But more importantly, only the people who slept and knew a test was coming had substantially improved memory recall.”


Take home message: Sleep can help you remember the information important to you and that is required in the future.

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How to reverse the brain aging process?

Over at brain health we find out that exercise can reverse the normal age-related shrinking of the brain. Walking 40 minutes 3 times a week can not only stop the normal shrinking of the brain but actually reverse the process (the hippocampus grew by 2%, while in the control group it shrank 1.4%).

And even more importantly:

Reassuringly, the reversing of the hippocampus shrinkage was accompanied with an improvement in memory function. Therefore, exercise improved both the morphology of the brain but also a real life functional outcome such as memory. You couldn’t ask for much more.

So today get out there and get in some exercise: walk, run, bike, hike, dance, anything.

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