Brain Dance – Bust a Move and a toe or two

It’s good I’m human and only have two legs because I was born with two left feet . . . can only imagine what it would be like with four.  So when it comes to improving my cognitive abilities through dance there’s a problem.  

However, those of you with both a left foot, a right foot, and a bit of rhythm, should read this:

“Partners from multiple universities studied groups of older adults who were split up into groups that focused on walking, both walking and proper nutrition, stretching and toning, and dancing, and followed them for a period of six months. Scans were taken of participants brains before and after the study, and researchers uncovered surprising results.”

The findings suggest that combining physical, cognitive, and social engagement like dance can improve cognitive health.

“Those in the other groups actually had a decrease in white matter, perhaps because the work that goes into remembering a choreographed dance, coupled with the social interaction, gave the brain more of workout than walking or stretching.”

Meowie busting a move, by Peggy

“Agnieszka Burzynska, the study’s lead author and a professor of human development and neuroscience at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, told the New York Times that activities involving moving and socializing are beneficial for your brain.”

“The message is that we should try not to be sedentary,” she said in the interview. “The people who came into our study already exercising showed the least decline in [white matter].” She added that those who took up dancing showed white-matter gains.”

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“Psychology Today reports that dancing can indeed improve cognitive function, and visualizing dance routines also improves muscle memory. Additionally, the article by Christopher Bergland, states that different types of dance practice allows you to achieve peak performance by blending cerebral and cognitive thought processes with muscle memory, and that by engaging in “regular aerobic training that incorporates some type of dance at least once a week” anyone can maximize brain their function.”

“Another study, led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York city, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that dancing also slowed down aging, increased intelligence, and improved neuroplasticity.”

“It looks like the secret to living a long, and engaged life, just might be hitting the dance floor”

. . . with 2 left feet, HITTING the dance floor is to be taken literally.

(jw)

source article: Dancing may be good for your brain

If You are Stressed eat every 2 hours!?!!!???

 Warning! This is bad Bad BAD advice.

According to Dr. Tara Swart, neuroscientist: “If you are under stress, eat every two hours for optimal brain function. Your brain can’t store glucose and so it is important to keep replenishing your stores. This will help you to maintain your focus and ensures a productivity boost.”

“It also ensures that your brain is well fed for any of the decisions it may need to make.”

“She adds that if you have the space to develop your mental resilience, then it can be useful to practice intermittent fasting as it teaches your brain that you can manage small amounts of physical stress, because you are in control of your recovery.”

Eating by Peggy

 When I’m stressed (which is a chronic state with fibromyalgia) I self-medicate on sugar.  Sugar gives me an immediate dopamine boost which then sends my blood sugar crashing which then sends me to my medicine cabinet (the pantry) . . . .

When I read Dr Swart’s advice the pantry was bare (after I ate a package of sugar coated pineapple, 3 prunes, a bowl of Cheerios and a handful of almonds – I’m stocking the cupboards with health food).  

Knowing my two hours would be up in another two hours I made a dash to the store.  A mix of double chocolate brownies (on sale) was only $3.99 and a better bargain than the packaged bakery brownies at $5.99.  Maybe my mental resilience didn’t need practice.

I had already eaten up (pun intended) 45 minutes of my two hour zone by going to the store.  So I was doubly stressed making the double chocolate brownies knowing that two hours would be up before the brownies were done and the only thing left to eat were Cheerios.

Dr Tara Swart is a neuroscientist who probably is svelte, prefers salt over sugar and her brain is smarter to begin with than mine.  I’ll bet she’s never had to practice “intermittent fasting”

(jw)

5 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO CHEER UP QUICKLY, ACCORDING TO NEUROSCIENCE

Pick yourself up and dust yourself off.  Easier said than done.  When I’m “down” I often just want to wallow in my misery, lick my wounds and feel sorry for myself.  It’s easier just to brood.  

There are, however, easy things to do that actually alter your brain neurochemistry to help you feel better .   When you get tired of brooding:

1. Go for a Walk outside.

Moving releases feel-better neurotransmitters.  Research  shows that if you walk outdoors, somewhere green,  the effect is enhanced.  scientifically proven to make you feel better. 

Journal Writing by Peggy

2. Vent Your Frustrations Into a Journal

Get paper and pen and write whatever comes to your mind, and no matter what it is, just keep writing. Even if it’s just, “This is stupid. Why am I doing this? Need to take out the garbage,” Focus on your frustrations. Write for a minimum of 20 minutes so your unconscious takes over.  Once you’ve done a mind-dump your brain can move on .

3. Call a Friend or Family Member

You may not want to burden anyone else with your bad mood but sometimes a friend or family member is needed . Let them know up front you don’t need advice just a listening ear. It helps you feel not so alone, lets your brain “objectively observe” whatever is stressing you . . . and knowing there are people who care can help shift your perspective.

Cat ‘n Mouse Phone Chat, by Peggy

4. Practice Gratitude

A simple way to stop feeling sorry for yourself and dwelling on everything that is going wrong is to focus on what is going right. Write down 3-5 things in your life, or on that day, that you are grateful for. . . .  look for things you take for granted: indoor plumbing, no toenail fungus (that is, of course if you have indoor plumbing and toenails)  . . .  the more you practice gratitude, the more you experience it.

5. Laugh Out Loud in Front of a Mirror

This sounds a bit weird BUT your laugh muscles signal the brain to release positive neurochemicals.   Even if you just smile broadly it works.  

If you want the easiest way to feel better check out an over-the-counter remedy Click here: Rx for Gratitude

More? Four easy ways to get happy 

Get a Move-on!

When I was growing up the only way the brain could be studied was after you were dead. With current technology researchers can now see electrical activity and brain structure in living brains.  The information on emotional states and the brain has exploded (the information, not the brain).  

Meowie Getting Her Move On by Peggy

We known for a long time how important exercise is for our body, but what we did not realize is how important exercise is for the brain.

Exercise has the same effects on the brain chemistry as antidepressant medications. Several studies have demonstrated that its benefits can ‘exceed even those of medication’.

“Exercise increases nerve growth factors, such as brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which are like steroids for the brain. Most people suffering from depression due to a deficiency of serotonin  depend wholly on psychiatric medications and consume antidepressants which target the serotonin system in your brain to elevate serotonin levels, that increase your motivation and willpower-and  minimize the activity of depression. Today neuroscientific research provides evidence that exercise can also ‘boost serotonin activity’.”

“Any movement such as:

  • walking  
  • jogging 
  • gardening
  • walking up and down the stairs

increases ‘the firing rate of serotonin neurons’, which causes them to release more serotonin to treat your depression or create new good habits. Similarly, exercise with moderate intensity increases your norepinephrine– which controls in depressive people the difficulties with concentration and deep thinking.”

“When you exercise your brain releases endorphins that act on your neurons like opiates (such as Vicodin or morphine) by sending ‘neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief’.  Exercise also speeds up activation of the endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoids (marijuana) are a naturally occurring chemical in the brain which reduces pain and increases positive feelings.”

Get Your Move On!  It’s legal everywhere.

To read the entire article by Professor B L Chakoo

Click here: http://www.dailyexcelsior.com/depression-and-neuro-science/

 

“1/4 of a second secret” to stop anger in its tracks

I met some remarkable people working as a therapist in a hospital psychiatric ward.  One of the most memorable was a Vietnam veteran who flew into rages.  He’d lost his lower left leg in battle. But the war or being severely injured were not what made him rageful. He had always raged, even as a child. His father raged as well.

His wife was the main target of his rages.  He would become uncontrollably angry at the smallest of things like forgetting where she left her keys, or spilling a beverage . . .  until he learned the “1/4 second secret” to controlling unwanted anger.

To understand the 1/4 of a second secret you need to understand the fight or flight reaction.

We have an ever vigilant watchdog,  a small almond shaped organ in our midbrain called the amygdala (amygdala from the Greek word for almond) that looks out for us 24/7 and alerts us to any POSSIBLE threat.  

When our brain receives a threat-cue, sounds, sights, smells, touches or even our imagination, our brain wants FAST action. No waiting around for a sign of safety, no thinking things through just FLEE or stay and FIGHT (there is also a “freeze” response but that’s another post).

Our amygdala floods the cells in our body with neurochemical signals to increase blood pressure, raise heart rate, send blood away from major organs to your muscles, constrict capillaries near the skin, increase breathing, and tamper down anything that isn’t crucial to fight or flee for survival. 

Unfortunately, our brain doesn’t discriminate between real threats, imagined threats, conditioned or potential threats.  That’s why things that are, in reality, not threatening can become threat-cues.

Luckily, many people tend to go with flight more easily than fight. But for those whose brain directs them to fight here’s the “1/4 second secret” that stopped the vet’s rages:


The thinking part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, can STOP the fight or flight response. We have 1/4 of a second to interrupt the signal from the threatening stimuli (sounds, sights, smells, touches or our imagination).  In that 1/4 split second tell the amygdala “Stop” or “I’m safe” and take a deep breath.

If we don’t “catch it” in 1/4 of a second a neurochemical cascade will  flood our cells.  Once the cells are flooded it takes 15 – 20 minutes for the neurochemicals to metabolize out of our body (provided no new information saying the threat continues to exist is received).

This is what the vet learned to do:

  • First, he identified the triggers that sent him into a rage.
  • Second, when he anticipated a trigger he used his pre-frontal cortex to say “stop” to the amygdala.
  • Third, if he failed to anticipate the trigger and felt the stress response building he would take a 20 minute walk to speed up  metabolizing out the stress response.

I admired his remarkable determination.  It took him 1/4 of a minute at a time to stop his rage response, change his marriage and improve his life.

Do you have a “secret technique” to control your stress response?

(PA)

Neuroscience: Singing makes you (not me) happy

In second grade we stood at our desk and sang. EVERY DAY.  The teacher traveled the room, bending down to intently listen to each child.  Those who were out of tune she tapped on the head to sit down.  There were two of us who always got tapped.
 
From third grade on  I silently mouthed the words anytime, anywhere there was singing, terrified someone would hear me.   
 

Now the science is in. Singing is really good for you and the most recent research suggests that group singing is the most exhilarating and transformative of all.

Creating music together evolved as a tool of social living. Groups and tribes sang and danced together to build loyalty, transmit vital information and ward off enemies.  (Since I still can’t carry a tune I figure all my enemies have long ago been warded off.)

Caterwauling beautiful music by Peggy

“What has not been understood until recently is that singing in groups triggers the communal release of serotonin and oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and even synchronises our heart beats.”

“Singing helps people with depression and reduces feelings of loneliness, leaving people feeling relaxed, happy and connected. What’s more, the benefits of singing regularly are cumulative. People who sing have reduced levels of cortisol, indicating lower stress.” (The research must have been done on people who could carry a tune.  My cortisol levels still go up when singing)

Now the good news (for me) . . . 

One of the great things about singing is that you can receive the wellbeing benefits even if you aren’t any good. One study showed that:

“Group singing can produce satisfying and therapeutic sensations even when the sound produced by the vocal instrument is of mediocre quality.”

“The current research into the neuroscience of singing shows that when we sing our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways. It fires up the right temporal lobe of our brain, releasing endorphins that make us smarter, healthier, happier and more creative. When we sing with other people this effect is amplified.”

I still can’t carry a tune but at least no one . . . so far . . . has tapped me on the head since second grade.

(jw)

Read the entire article:  The Neuroscience of Singing

How to teach an old dog new tricks – Cognitive Science of Habits

Research shows our brains are plastic, moldable and easy to please and despite sayings to the contrary, you can, in fact, teach an old dog (or cat) new tricks. But you have to give your brain a reason to get started.  

Here are excerpts from the article:

On the Mind: How Habits Work and How to Make Them

“Our brains like treats, MRI scans are clear about that. The reward pathway involves several parts of the brain, including areas such as the prefrontal cortex. Food, water, sex and pleasurable activity light up these areas and travel around the brain. If you want to build a habit, make it fun.

“Overall, recent brain scans show that certain areas of the brain light up when a new behavior is started, and the most effective way to keep the areas lit and happy is through rewards. Otherwise, we’re programmed to be lazy and efficient.”

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“In the past year, neuroscientists and psychologists have teamed up to study habit learning and how the brain reacts to new behaviors. They’ve found that some neurons, the cells that fire information across our brain and tell us what to do, are linked to motivation, reward association and habit learning.

Rewarding Right Behavior by Peggy

“When we like a new action, our brain pumps out feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, and we’re more likely to repeat the action to get the same pleasurable response.”

“Just like Pavlov’s dog, if we can motivate ourselves to repeat an action with a reward several times, we can potentially make it stick. And if we lump two or three of those habits together, they can cascade in the brain and lead to the likelihood of sticking with several good habits at once. Hey, even monkeys can learn how to build habits through repetition without much instruction, Brown University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers reported.”

Key Takeaways

1.  Make a Plan for 2 months . . . or longer!

Figure out what works for you, and don’t get discouraged by what seems to be common knowledge. Pop culture has promulgated the idea that it only takes 21 days, or 3 weeks, to form a new habit, but research shows that, depending on the person and habit, changes can take two months or longer.

“To figure out which cravings are driving particular habits, it’s useful to experiment with different rewards,” which may take days or weeks, Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit. “During that period, you shouldn’t feel any pressure to make a real change … think of yourself as a scientist in the data collection stage.”

2.  Be Realistic

Don’t set yourself up for failure or place your expectations too high.

“ . . .   it’s common for people to set their sights cripplingly high in a moment of ambition, only to feel crushed when they fail to live up to those unrealistic goals.”

“That crushed feeling sends negative pulses rushing through your neurons, which destroys good associations with the habits you’re building. Try the smallest steps possible . . .  to feel happy about the smallest success you can accomplish.”

3.  Reward Yourself

“If you want to be motivated, you have to do something you enjoy and feel comfortable doing.”

Read entire article: Habits and How to Make Them