Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cut Calories: One Way to Live Better and Longer

Jeff Miller of the University of Wisconsin-Madison caught Canto and Owen on camera for the NY Times Science News today. "Canto, left, a rhesus monkey, is aging fairly well at 25 on a calorie restriction diet. Owen, though only a year older than Canto, is frail and moves slowly. He eats a normal diet."

Thanks to Michael Mason, who wrote about the research at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. We've all heard about calorie restricted diets for quite some time and some good indicators about improved overall health have come out of the research. But now, it's beginning to look more real. Mason says it best, "In the last year, calorie-restricted diets have been shown in various animals to affect molecular pathways likely to be involved in the progression of Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson's disease, and cancer." Some researchers are beginning to say this approach is even better than exercise at preventing or delay typical age-related diseases. Of course, a balanced diet is critical, even with restricted caloric intake of about 30% below typical levels, and must include the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. Pushing away from the table sooner is looking better and better.

The article goes on to discuss other ways of extending the quality of life and longevity with the idea that slowing down aging also slows down diseases, such as heart disease and Alzheimer's.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

AARP: Working to Keep Our Brains Fit

Since our company, Quixit, Inc., is located in the Bay Area and the AARP convention was in Anaheim, California, we decided that we should showcase our newly relaunched www.HappyNeuron.com there. After all, brain health and fitness should be of interest to AARP members, especially games that are fun to play and promote wellness. We worked hard to get our booth, signage, and handouts ready and rolled into Anaheim ready to share our enthusiasm. After 10 hours a day of standing in front of the huge video monitor we rented for our small booth, with postcards and posters in our hands (like the one above), and our 30-second pitch primed to perfection, three of us met the oncoming hordes of men and women strolling the many exhibitor aisles of the huge convention hall.

"Interested in games? Interested in having a fit brain?" we asked endlessly. Most people said yes (of course) and many zoomed down the aisle directly to us. They were familiar with the challenge and wanted to know what they could do.

A few just walked by. One in particular was memorable. He walked quickly by. "I still work," he said.

"Great," I said, "what do you do?"

"I can't tell you," he said.


"Because if I do, I'll have to kill you."

Hmm.m.m. A bit unexpected at the AARP convention.

The theme was "life@50+." So, how do we feel about our AARP exhibitor experience? We are all energized by the enthusiastic reception we received but our brains are fried, our feet are permanently sore, and I want to burn the shoes I wore. It was fun to talk to so many nice folks from all over the US interested in continuing to learn and keeping their brains fit and healthy. Many people had already researched the "use it or lose it" approach to brain fitness. And they wanted to know what to do about it. What is really beyond crossword puzzles, they asked?

Our booth was located just across the aisle from the Nintendo folks who showcased their "BrainAge" software for the Nintendo DS and their Wii suite of games, including bowling, tennis, baseball, golf, and other sports. It was great to take a break every now and then and hit a few tennis serves. Nice people, too, at the Nintendo booth.

I must admit that I had never considered attending an AARP convention before this one. So I was surprised at its size (22,000+), the range for high-quality offerings (Bill Cosby, Maya Angelou, Geena Davis, Don Rather, Connie Chung, etc. as speakers and lesser known but expert speakers on all kinds of tantalizing topics), the friendliness of the staff, the 60s live music in corners around the convention hall and outside, and the high level of interest in brain fitness. And the really nice AARP members who were there.

According to the AARP literature, the average age of the attendees has fallen from 72 about five years ago to about 60. There goes that Baby Boomer effect again! Next year, it will probably be in the high 50s and falling.

I would definitely go to another one. And by the way, next year's will be in Boston.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

We Are What They Think We Are

In the October 20 issue of Science, researchers Dar-Nimrod and Heine from the University of British Columbia reported on a study they conducted. They told one group of women that women do not perform well in science and math, using a disguised research study report as the basis of this "fact." The other group was not shown the "study results." And guess what? Well, of course. The women who thought that women were naturally bad at math and science performed much more poorly than the group that just got to wing it, using their own perceptions and skills. Chris Lee at Nobel Intent also commented on this study and as he points out, "scientific theories that promulgate genetic explanations for performance difference become self-fulfilling. . . there are enough high-performing women scientists in all fields to indicate that genetics is unlikely to be a major contributor to women's average under-performance in math and science."

These results are amazingly similar to the research conducted with blue and brown-eyed children in the 50s. One group was inferior one day and the other group was deemed inferior the next day with the expected results: huge drops in self-esteem, feelings of interiority and associated behaviors, such as shyness, loss of humor, etc.

This study also reminds me of the recent finding regarding people who ignore the stereotypes associated with a certain age. Researchers found that indeed they behaved in every way like people many years younger. We seem to want to fit the stereotype one way or another. Are these behaviors a result of mirror-psych neurons?

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Mother Was Right: Eat Your Vegetables (They're Good for Your Brain)

Martha Clare Morris, associate professor at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, has been observing the effects of diet on aging and the brain. She and her team have found that eating vegetables, especially green leafy ones, every day can make a big difference in the brains of those who crunched through kale, spinach, lettuce, chard, and other green leafies and those who didn't: faster thinking. Or, as she put it, the equivalent of being five years younger in age for the veggie-consumers.

The study involved six years of observation of 3,718 participants who were 65 and older and is part of the Chicago Health and Aging Project.

The reason? "Morris suspects that vegetables may help protect memory and thinking speed because they contain high amounts of vitamin E, an antioxidant that can help reduce the damage caused by free radicals, unstable oxygen molecules generated by normal metabolism that can damage neurons in the brain and contribute to dementia." These research results were reported in the Oct. 24 issue of the journal Neurology.

In another report issued by the AMA last year, Morris concluded that eating fish at least once a week increases brain fitness, too, equaling a brain-age three-to-four years younger. Fruit-eaters did not experience such brain-related benefits.

I think by now we all know that green leafy veggies and fish are good diet choices. We didn't know that they could make that much difference. Berkeley Professor of Integrative Biology, Marion Diamond, has been saying this for quite some time, however.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Regular Exercise Works Best for Our Brains

The LA Times Health section featured an article by Greg Miller on Friday which summed up current research on keeping our brains healthy and fit throughout our lives. According to the article, a panel of experts assembled by the National Institutes of Health earlier this year reviewed the scientific literature on cognitive aging. They concluded that regular, consistent mental workouts, physical exercise, social interactions, and attention to cardiovascular health are critical to keeping mental edge as we get older. The regular and consistent part turns out to be extremely important. We already know that quick fixes don't work with exercise or diet. Now it's clear that regular workouts for our brains are also important. Marilyn Albert, a cognitive neuroscientist from Johns Hopkins University summed it up:

"The fab four. . . are physical activity, mental activity, social engagement and cardiovascular health." And researchers say, there's very little difference between men and women in the cognitive aging arena.

Denise Park, another respected researcher in aging and cognition from the University of Illinois adds that it is very important to learn new things with new challenges instead of getting stuck in the same old rut. If you already play the flute, take up a language. If you love cooking, try gardening, too, etc. The message: stay active, physically and mentally, and continue to challenge yourself to stay fit.

Lately in several articles about keeping the brain fit as we age, Dr. Timothy Salthouse has been quoted as the contrarian, based on the large study called A.C.T.I.V.E, that he led. He concluded that mental training is not particularly helpful.

I think it's very important to look at the A.C.T.I.V.E research design to be able to understand why Dr. Salthouse is as negative as he is, at least in the soundbites from newspaper articles. The study lasted for 24 months and tested specific intervals of training in a group of men and women between the ages of 65 and 94. Three of the four groups received ten sessions stretched over several weeks of 60-75 minutes each of training on a particular cognitive skill like reasoning, memory, or processing speed. Then 11 months later, they got three more hours of training (called booster sessions).

The groups were tested three times: after the first set of sessions, after the Booster, and then 24 months after the first sessions. They found a decline in each of the skills at the second and third test points.

In other words, Salthouse et al. found that quick fixes don't work. Why does this surprise anyone? If I don't speak French for a year or two (even with three hours of study in between), my French is less than it used to be. If I speak and study regularly and consistently, I notice that my fluency improves dramatically. Same thing with piano playing, with Sudoku, bridge, and practically any other pursuit that involves my brain that I can think of. Regular practice makes me better and faster at the task at hand. If I don't practice, I slow down. Sounds remarkably like what happens when I don't cycle or swim for a few weeks. I have to work on retraining my muscles and my breathing.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Online Brain Exercises

On Tuesday, the Washington Post published an article, "Pumping Neurons," about online brain gyms. We were happy to see that Happy Neuron was one of the sites reviewed and glad to supply all of the pictures of games used in the article. Stacey Weiner, the author, actually went to three different sites and tried them out. She called the broad spectrum of Happy Neuron games a "high-brow Funland" and noted that its workouts were developed by neuroscientists and physicians, who are experts in the field of aging and the prevention of Alzheimer's and dementia. She also noted that the HappyNeuron.com site explains the cognitive skills involved in each game and the real-world applications and connections.

Our team is still working hard on the Happy Neuron site. We want to match the huge amount of scientific research on Alzheimer's prevention with games and exercises that people will actually enjoy playing. We believe that marrying science, achievement, challenge, and fun is the only way that most folks will be motivated to return again and again and again to meet new challenges, be constantly aware of what is involved in keeping our brains and bodies fit, and expand those challenges to everyday activities.

Thanks to Mind Hacks for writing about the article. I commented there on the large number of studies (with many peer-reviewed scientific articles published on them) that contribute to our knowledge about specific activities that can help us keep our brains healthy and fit. Games are high on the list although many other activities can be helpful, too (such as dancing, for example).

Sunday, October 15, 2006


My mother sits in her grandfather's wing chair upholstered many times over, now covered in worn fabric with a creamy yellow background with small blue flowers. We have just moved all of her things, again. Her paintings fill the opposite wall, two and three deep, almost up to the ceiling. The high ceiling of the room, which we call an apartment, provides the space for my mother's precious drawings, prints, paintings, and found art that make up the framework of familiarity and memory of her 80-something-year-old life. We feel comforted by that and hope she is, too. Her children, my sister, the baby and now in her 40s, my brother who is retired, and myself, the oldest, have moved her choices of furniture and keepsakes into the "apartment" with one door leading out into the world and one door leading to the nurses' station and the cheerful atrium with dining tables and comfortable living room sofas.

I sense that Mother feels numb. I think she wants to laugh and smile and cry again. She wants to be interested again in life, love and adventure. She has always had such a strong inner life, protecting her most prized possession, her creativity. But now, her eyes have lost their gleam, their energy and willfulness, their life. Her life. She often complains of the intense pain in her lower back and has focused on her pain, the pain of going on and on and on, the pain of living beyond her routine, her fulfillments, her husband, her friends, the pain of having to learn everything, and every person, in a new place, all over again. She seems tired, worn with living. She often falls, sometimes head first, sometimes against the bed or the bureau, leading to more pain, more confusion. And fear.

Her muscles have contracted to nothing, her thin-skinned arms hang with flesh instead of flexing with taut muscles as they did in her gardening days, symbolic of all that has faded, evaporated, gone away. Her skin is paper-thin and so wrinkled, cream crepe with dark purple, light mauve and brown tie-dyed colorations, in strange patterns. her own patterns. She always covers her arms now with fabric, not with the lively colored stones of her many, many bracelets. She avoids deep v-neck shirts and blouses, for the same reason, and has lost interest in her vast collection of earrings and necklaces. She still takes some glory in her beautiful silver white hair. She hangs on to her weekly hair appointments like they're the last life raft available from the sinking ship of age. And she does perk up visibly after having her shampoo and coif; she clearly feels comfortable reminiscences of her former beauty and self.

I flew in from California to see her. We have had a heavy schedule of movies this week. My mother loves for me to take her to movies and restaurants when I am in town. We go in the early afternoon to avoid the crowds. Moving her body from car to wheelchair through the thick, slow-opening doors of the theaters is hard work. She always goes to the restroom afterwards, which is arduous for both of us.

"Mother, do you need anything or would you like anything?" I ask as my mother and I return from an art movie. We've had an early dinner at the French cafe next door to the film house, sitting on the terrace, enjoying the sun in our faces. My mother looks so small in her wheelchair. "Would you like some particular kind of food? Or books?"

She shakes her head and then suddenly brightens. "Classical music," she whispers.

"Great. So you've been using that CD player I got you?" She nods. "OK, what would you like? Mozart, Bach, Brahms, Vivaldi?"

"Yes, yes," she shakes her head up and down slowly, looking at me intensely. "I've missed music."

I hope so, I thought. This is a woman who has always had music in her life. I feel a pang. My sister and I sold her beautiful white enameled grand piano. She loved playing and owning that piano. She loved composing. She loved singing and playing for others. She loved to dance, too. Music brought joy to my mother's face, everyday as she played a few pieces alone for herself. As a child, I felt calmer and somehow more loved when I heard her magical soft touch on the piano. It meant Mother was having a happy, small spiritual energizing interlude. And I was included if I was in hearing distance.

Her short-term memory is shot. Her body is frail and broken. Her hand-eye coordination is pitiful. She's lost her sense of humor, her saucy edge, her flirtatious kick, and her multitude of interests. She has had many batches of TIA's, those nasty clusters of little strokes that put roadblocks on the brain's neural paths. We call them MIA's because the mother we knew is missing in action now.

I stop by the local music store and run in to buy an armload of classical CDs: Brahms, Beethoven, Rimsky-Korsakov. "Art, music, reading, writing, travel, and appreciation of nature are all manifestations of the great spirit within us that needs to be heard, " my mother often told me as I was growing up.

"Can you help me dress for bed?" Mother says, even though it's just now 6 p.m. We've arrived at her apartment after our afternoon foray into movies, food, and CD-buying.

"Sure." I carefully pull her pink sweater over her newly coiffed hairdo. Multiple folds of flaccid skin hang from her upper arms but her shoulders look like those of a young girl. I pull her black synthetic trousers down her legs, careful to keep her diaper and her dignity in place. I pull her pink nylon nightie over her head and gently lie her down on her bed.

"Please tuck me in," she says sweetly, like a small child trying to do the right thing.

I pull the covers up under her chin and give her a big kiss on her cheek. "I love you, Mother. Is there anything else you'd like me to do?"

"Yes, I want to listen to Scheherazade forever. Can you make it keep playing?" She softly sighs, worried.

"Yes, Mother, I will." As the wistful and sweet strains of that paean to exotic adventure begins to play, big tears roll from the edge of my eyes. I am overcome with grief and sadness.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Music, Language, and the Brain

I've had music on the brain lately, with my thinking mostly centered on the relationship between language development and music. We know, for example, that the one thing that typically distinguishes non-native speakers is intonation, or the musical tones of a language. Accent, vocabulary, grammar and syntax can all be perfect but if the intonation is off, then somehow we deduce almost immediately that the person speaking is not talking in his or her native tongue. And, of course, as we all are aware, intonation--pitch, for example--can convey meaning more than any other mechanism in language. This was a question I always had when I studied Chomsky's deep structure. What about meaning? What about intonation? Where does it fit in?

I've been wondering if this seemingly innate capability to notice and then learn the differences in pitch, duration, and frequency form the foundation for music in our lives. Or is language development so tied to music that without it, we couldn't develop the ability to understand others and express ourselves? It certainly is the beginning of "hearing" and categorizing phonemes, the smallest sounds in a language that convey meaning. Each phoneme is composed of a very particular pitch, frequency, and duration. Sounds like a description of music, doesn't it? And how does emotion, something we feel so deeply and often when we hear music, fit in? Do we associate touch and sound in a glimmering memory of a mother's coos and rising pitch of delight while cuddling her newborn.

There was a wonderful show today on NPR on Musical Language, produced by Radio Lab. Fortunately, you can access the free podcast. I urge you to take a listen. The relationship between language and music is examined as are tonal languages. One fascinating topic came up: the virtuosity on musical instruments (comparing Chinese students to American kids), which is seemingly quite common at early ages in countries where tonal languages are spoken. There may be very early practice on perfect pitch. Examination of many of the greats in musical composing shows that these artists also had perfect pitch.

And to bring this topic home: what role can music play in keeping our brains healthy? We've all heard that learning to play a new instrument is great for our brains. And learning a new language (with new intonation) helps, too. They both help build cognitive reserve. But what part does listening to, and deeply feeling, music play in keeping our brains healthy throughout our lives?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Need for Friends Is Hardwired in Our Brains

Daniel Goleman's NY Times article yesterday summarized why many neuroscientists believe that the need for human social interaction is so important to us, physically and mentally. We already know that folks with strong social networks of friends and family get well faster after injury or disease and live longer. But why?

Mirror neurons may be a big part of the answer. Our brains are hardwired to "mirror" what other people do or to rapidly synchronize with the feelings of others. This explains empathy and rapport, for example. Or as two researchers, Lisa M. Diamond and Lisa Aspinwall from the University of Utah, put it (in Daniel Goleman's much more accessible words): "emotional closeness allows the biology of one person to influence the other." And John T. Cacioppo from the University of Chicago, says that "the emotional status of our main relationships has a significant impact on our overall pattern of cardiovascular and neuroendocrine activity." We know, for example, that a supportive remark or touch from a friend can actually lower our blood pressure, reduce stress, and certainly make us feel better.

There we go, again: the amazing connection between heart and head. We are in for some exciting research and findings ahead.

On another but related topic, I've just found a new blog (for me), Developing Intelligence. Chris Chatham's last few postings have been on language acquisition and the intersection between language, culture, perception, and meaning. Mirror neurons should definitely be a topic in this discussion.

Language is a crazy salad of categorizing sounds and meaning and perceptions, organizing our thoughts (more categories, which result in, for example, grammar and syntax), and then comprehending others and expressing ourselves. I think it will become clear through more research in areas like "mirror neurons" that language and thinking are closely connected to our need for and response to social interactions. That's where we get the idea about language in the first place. And that's why language is so intertwined with culture, perception, and meaning, occurring through social interactions. Incredibly complex and alarmingly simple, at the same time. Like all really workable systems.

The message: one important part of brain fitness has got to be strong social interactions with friends and family. Our biology is just waiting to be influenced by others and those mirror neurons need to be exercised just like everything else.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Thanks to Boomer Chronicles for alerting me to Boomeritis, defined by Prime Time Fitness as "a quasi-disease of aging Baby Boomers who are refusing to slow down."

A different attitude has helped me. Aerobic used to be the name of the game for me: backpacking with 40-pound packs up steep mountains, running miles and miles and miles, etc. Now, I swim, love yoga and Pilates and NIA. I still cycle but do so sensibly and enjoy myself on the long hauls with lots of time for lunch and rest stops. The author of Boomer Chronicles, Rhea, recently went on a 32-mile ride. If she cycled with friends, stopped and had lunch and rested whenever she felt like it, it sounds lovely. I do day-hikes now, without huge backpacks. I still love kayaking and whitewater canoeing. But I don't run and I try not to compete with everyone in sight (still hard but I'm trying to be disciplined). I also don't play pick-up basketball any more to show off (I fail at that now). I actually enjoy walking my dogs in the neighborhood. And gardening, too. And I'm thinking of trying Tai Chi because I know balance is so important. I skied until I hurt my knee about five years ago but would like to ski again, with a new, more relaxed attitude. I think I can, this year. One of the best things about skiing anyway is just to have the cold air blowing on my face and the great views unfolding before me as I glide down the mountain. I'll take brush-up lessons first.

Both of my parents had very severe arthritis and I've been determined to avoid it as much as possible. So far, so good. I think regular, and varied, exercise has been one of the best preventive things I could have done. I have a friend who recently defined me as "an athlete" although most people don't know that side of me. I like the idea that I've changed my own definition of what is meant by "athlete." I like the adventure of trying all kinds of new approaches to exercise.

I know exercise is every bit as good for my head as it is for my heart. I wish everyone knew that our brains need more oxygen than our hearts and that physical exercise also tones and flexes many cognitive skills, too . Sad how few folks get the connection.

Fit Brains: All About New Ideas

Thanks to Jill Fallon of The Business of Life for alerting me to 10 Valuable Life Lessons. . . Learned from Coffins, just in time for Halloween. A later post, Six Ways to Carry Trash, got my attention, too. American Inventors Spot is all about invention, innovation, and new ideas.

Research on healthy brains has shown again and again that learning what is new to us is good for us. That includes looking at old ideas in new ways. By making the effort to push the edge of our learning beyond our comfort zones, we also create new neural connections and pathways. This is what neuroscientists call "cogntive reserve" or "brain reserves." We're building extra thinking capacity, a kind of mental savings account to use in the future as need.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Just in Time for Halloween: Scary Brain Story

Erica Good's NY Times' story this past week sent chills up my spine, a loud, ghoulish fright, just in time to haunt my mind for the scary season. Dr. David A. Dunning of Cornell and a graduate student, Justin Kruger, have been studying people who do things badly, who are, in other words, incompetent. These are the people who just keep at it, no matter how many signs and clues they get from others. They found that these folks are supremely confident of their abilities, in fact, often more confident than people who are really experts. Dunning says, "I began to think that there probably lots of things that I was bad at, and I didn't know it."

In the paper they wrote for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, they say of these folks, "Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it." Yikes! Then they go on to give examples, which are a little too close to home. This is why, they say, inept joke tellers just keep at it (and you can just guess the rest of the examples). I feel like I'm lost in a Holiday Inn ad. You know, the one where some "expert" (pilot, surgeon, whatever's needed) pops up to solve the crisis. When asked, "are you a surgeon, pilot, whatever? The answer, "no, but I stayed at a Holiday Inn last night." Well, trick or treat.

And once again, Garrison Keillor nails it: "And that's the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Everyone's Brain Needs to Laugh

Check out Reluctant Nomad's "Insults--they just don't make them as they used to."

Smile, snicker, chuckle. Just let go and laugh out loud. You'll feel great.

Then ponder these findings about humor and our brains. According to Allan Reiss, MD of Stanford University in a 2005 study, men and women's brains react differently to humor. Researchers already know that men and women share much when laugh. For example, both use the part of the brain responsible for language processing and semantic knowledge and juxtaposition. But women seem to use the language and reasoning areas more and expect a punchline less, which activates the reward center. So when we do find something that's amusing, we are really pleased.

And then there "Humor's Sexual Side." John Morreal of William and Mary College, says that the content of men and women's humor is quite different. Men tend to find practical jokes and put-downs hilarious while women tend to use humor to bond with others. Geoffrey Miller of the University of Mexico finds that women prefer funny men and how much they laugh may be tied to sexual attraction whereas the number of times men laughed at women's jokes had no correlation with that kind of interest in the woman. And, of course, women who use "men's" humor are seen as too aggressive.

Oh, my goodness, what a tangle. And it just keeps going.

Everyone seems to agree that humor is a sign of cognitive health. We already know that because we instantly feel more positive when we laugh. In case you've forgotten, circle back to the top and take a look at those funny insults. And for the women in the audience, the ones that take quick language processing and reasoning are the most fun.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

You're Only as Old as You Think You Are!

Gina Kolata's great article in yesterday's NY Times was picked up in numerous other publications, for good reason. Yes, it is all in our heads--and hearts. New research results from the National Institute on Aging have just been released from studies trying to figure out why some people become frail as they age and others don't. The main reasons center around two surprises: (l) hidden heart disease; and (2) mental images connected to chronological age. In the case of the second reason, people who rebel against culturally acceptable norms of how they should act at 50, 60, 70, 80 and on are much more likely to lead active, energetic lives than those who believe that a certain age must result in physical and/or mental decline. Once again, fascinating news with reverberating implications. So, 60 really can be the new 40! We just have to see ourselves as not fitting into our cultural and media-driven stereotypes. Keep rebelling, Boomers!

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Get Energy from Speedy Thoughts

Emily Pronin at Princeton and Daniel Wegner at Harvard teamed up to study the effects of cognitive processing speed. They found that manipulating speed, even in simple ways like reading at a fast pace versus a slow pace made for happier, more energetic people with increased feelings of power, creativity, and self-esteem. "Quick" and "slow" take on new meaning. These two researchers concluded that the speed that people process information is just as important as the content itself. OK, forget caffeine. Next time I need an energy boost, I'll engage in a fast-paced conversation instead. Fascinating findings with lots of implications for both therapies and everyday use. One conclusion: our brains really do need regular, consistent exercise on the basic how-to skills to be able to acquire and retain content/knowledge efficiently. And be in a good mood.

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Reading, Serendipity, and the Brain

I recently made a quick trip to Vail, Colorado, to attend a short conference. The air was brisk, the sun was out, and the quaking aspen trees were in full autumn splendor. But the most fun I had was early one morning before the conference started. I went to the Fitness Room and slid onto a recumbent bike next to Jeanne. I had forgotten my iPod so I felt mentally naked, with no tools for obsessive multitasking, other than watching repetitive news from the TV console hanging on the far wall. What was my mind to do? Jeanne and I started to chat politely and somehow quickly got into books we had read. We zoomed into "have you read. . .?" and covered acres of territory, on the ground and in the sky. We both like fiction and the list of common titles was huge. Then we lingered around the edges, recommending titles discovered by one of us but not the other. Another reader! There is nothing more exhilarating, not even the luminous color of the aspens. The half-hour on the bike flashed by.

Reading doesn't come in as high as interactive games or dancing in studies looking at keeping our brains fit and agile (such as The Bronx Aging Study and many others), coming in at around 35% versus 65-75% reduction of the probability of Alzheimer's or vascular dementia. But I don't care. I love to read. And I love to find someone else who loves to read even more. And I wonder: working those muscles on the bike + interacting with another person + zooming in and out of those connections upstairs to find and talk about all those books. I was cross training, for sure.

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