Interested in improving your attention, memory, thinking skills, ability to manage stressful situations? Good news: “Recent research in neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change in response to information and new activities – shows that brain cells and new pathways continue to develop throughout life…”, say mainstream newspapers like the New York Times, who are increasing their coverage on the growing movement of “brain training” games and technologies.

An article titled “Mind Over Matter, With a Machine’s Help” provides a great overview on how to combine cognitive therapy with fMRI (an advanced neuroimaging technique that enables movie-like visual feedback on what areas of the brain are getting activated). Another article, titled “Calisthenics for the Older Mind, on the Home Computer”, reviews a number of commercial software packages.

I have interviewed 10 neuroscientists and experts in cognitive and emotional training to better understand the research behind this field and the implications for our lives. Let me share with you some of my favorite quotes:

1) “Learning is physical. Learning means the modification, growth, and pruning of our neurons, connections-called synapses- and neuronal networks, through experience…we are cultivating our own neuronal networks.”- Dr. James Zull, Professor of Biology and Biochemistry at Case Western University.

2) “Exercising our brains systematically ways is as important as exercising our bodies. In my experience, “Use it or lose it” should really be “Use it and get more of it”.- Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, neuropsychologist, clinical professor of neurology at New York University School of Medicine, and disciple of the great neuropsychologist Alexander Luria.

3) “Individuals who lead mentally stimulating lives, through education, occupation and leisure activities, have reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s symptoms. Studies suggest that they have 35-40% less risk of manifesting the disease”- Dr. Yaakov Stern, Division Leader of the Cognitive Neuroscience Division of the Sergievsky Center at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York.

4) “What research has shown is that cognition, or what we call thinking and performance, is really a set of skills that we can train systematically.” – Dr. Daniel Gopher, Professor of Cognitive Psychology and Human Factors Engineering at Technion Institute of Science.

5) “Elite performers are distinguished by the structuring of their learning process…You need to protect and optimize that practice, learning time… It is important to understand the role of emotions: they are not “bad”. They are very useful signals. It is important to become aware of them to avoid being engulfed by them, and learn how to manage them.” – Dr. Brett Steenbarger, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, SUNY Medical University, and author of Enhancing Trader Performance.

6) “We have shown that working memory can be improved by training” – Dr. Torkel Klingberg, Professor at Karolinska Institute, and Director of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, part of the Stockholm Brain Institute.

7) “I don’t see that schools are applying the best knowledge of how minds work. Schools should be the best place for applied neuroscience, taking the latest advances in cognitive research and applying it to the job of educating minds.” – Dr. Arthur Lavin, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Case Western School of Medicine, pediatrician in private practice.

If you are interested in learning more about this exciting field of “brain fitness” and “brain exercise”, please keep tuned. Over the next weeks we will publish new interviews with:

– Dr. Judith S. Beck, Director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research, and author of The Beck Diet Solution: Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Person.

– Dr. Robert Sylwester, Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon. His most recent book is The Adolescent Brain: Reaching for Autonomy. The Education Press Association of America has given him two Distinguished Achievement Awards for his syntheses of cognitive science research.

Now you know: Nutrition, Physical Exercise and Stress Management are very important to your brain health and fitness, but you can also exercise and improve your “Mental Muscles”!

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