Research Evidence

Neuroplasticity - THE SCIENTIFIC JOURNEY OF DISCOVERIES

Neuroplasticity – THE SCIENTIFIC JOURNEY OF DISCOVERIES

The brain is organised topographically

Dr Wilder Penfield (1891-1976)

Dr Wilder Penfield (1891-1976)

In the 1930s Dr Wilder Penfield, a neurosurgeon at the Montreal Neurological Institute, noted that his patients’ brains were organised like a map. Penfield observed that different parts of the body were located topographically; activities that formed a pattern of behaviour or habit were represented and processed in adjacent locations of the brain (Penfield 1937).

The brain has critical periods of development

D.Hubel (L) & T. Wiesel (R) who won Noble Prize in 1980 for their research on physiology of vision

D.Hubel (L) & T. Wiesel (R) who won Noble Prize in 1980 for their research on physiology of vision

Hubel and Wiesel’s experiments in (the 1960s and 70s contributed to understanding the primary visual cortex, and critical periods of development in early childhood. During these decades most of the neuroscientific community assumed that the brain developed all of its major functionality—that is, the “wiring” of the brain that supports hearing, seeing, feeling, thinking, and emotions—in early infancy. As the critical periods of development ended in childhood it was assumed that the “mature” brain was unchangeable, like a computer with all its wires permanently soldered together. Taking this perspective the brain’s functional locations were considered to be fixed, immutable, and universal—identical in each of us.

Rethinking the concept of a hard wired brain

Michael Merzenich has had a distinguished career at University of California, San Francisco as Francis A. Sooy Professor and Co-Director of the Keck Centre for Integrative Neuroscience. He was elected to the National Aacademy of Sciences in 1999 and Institute of Medicine in 2008. He co-founded PositScience, where he currently leads a team of neuroscientists designing IT games neuroplasticity research findings.

Michael Merzenich

Michael Merzenich significantly contributed to a paradigm shift in understanding the brain. His research demonstrated that adults’ brains are not “hard-wired” like a computer, as was once believed, but quite the opposite. He demonstrated how the mature brain was plastic, adapting and evolving over a person’s lifespan in response to experience and learning. Neuroplasticity is a strange term. Neuro refers to the brain and plasticity to the malleable nature of the brain’s structure and function. Merzenich did not set out to understand how the brain changes itself but stumbled on the nature of brain’s neuroplasticity when studying the brain’s sensory and motor functional areas and processes. Although he was not the first scientist to demonstrate neuroplasticity, it was through Merzenich and his colleagues’ experiments that mainstream scientists gradually came to accept processes of life-long neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity- Implications of a soft-wired concept of the brain

Due to lifelong neuroplasticity it is possible, with targeted training and the right kinds of nourishing and enriching experiences, to improve an ageing brain’s sensory processing abilities for greater precision, speed and retention. These fundamental abilities are the building blocks needed for higher order thinking processes like attention, focus, planning and memory. A second implication of neuroplasticity, is that it is possible to learn to cultivate positive emotions and inner strengths so they become traits or habits for responding to life experiences, whether positive or negative and with benefits for both physical health and mental health.

 

References

Ruczynski, R., PhD, and Hanson, R. PhD., “Happiness and Neuroplasticity: Simple Strategies for Rewiring Your Brain”, National Institute for Clinical Application of Behavoural Medicine, www.nicabm.com February 2014,
Doidge, Norman MD., The Brain that Changes Itself, Chp 3 (2011)
Fernandez, A Golderberg, E. Michelon, P. (2013) The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness, Revised Edition (2011), Scribe Melbournes2nd Ed, P 217
Dr Michael Mezenich TEDX 2009 http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_merzenich_on_the_elastic_brain.html
www.positscience.com/why-brainhq Accessed 22nd September 2013
www.positscience.com/howbraintrainingworks Accessed 6th January 2014
http://ebookbrowsee.net/neuroplasticity-revolution-norman-doidge-pdf-d417605719

Neuroplasticity - KEY PRINCIPLES

Neuroplasticity – KEY PRINCIPLES

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s lifelong capacity to change its own structure (anatomy) and functional organisation (physiology) in response to stimulation from learning and experience (Fernandez, 2011).

  • Structural plasticity occurs when neurons create new connections and pathways, and when existing pathways are trimmed or pruned.
Aborisation

Aborisation

Arborisation involves the branching of dendrites and axons allowing greater connectivity. Synaptogenesis is formation of new synaptic connections. Neurogenesis – the creation of new neurons from stem cells – generally stops in infancy. Babies are born with many more brain neurons than is needed in adulthood, and structural plasticity in childhood involves a lot of neural pruning as the neural system becomes organised and specialised. However, neurogenesis does occur in adulthood in the olefactory region of the brain, and importantly also in the hippocampus, a region deeply involved in new learning.

  • Functional plasticity occurs when neurons do NOT change their physical connections but their action potentials are activated in different ways for different reasons.

What changes are the conditions, thresholds, and processes whereby neurons and networks are activated and signal pathways strengthened. Myelination of axons, proliferation and loss of neurotransmitter receptors, and long-term potentiation (LTP) are examples of mechanisms of functional plasticity.

  • HEBB’S LAW: Neurons tend to connect with more closely associated neuron populations and are less likely to form connections or to be activated by distant or unrelated functions. The process can be summarised in Hebb’s Law:

NEURONS THAT FIRE TOGETHER WIRE TOGETHER and NEURONS THAT FIRE APART WIRE APART.

  • Sensory neurons can respond to experience and learning through structural and functional plasticity, particularly the development and strengthening of NEURAL MAPS.

Brain maps are ordered topographically because many everyday activities involve repeating sequences of actions in a fixed order. Habitual patterns involve sets of neurons that regularly fire together and wire together.

  • The competitive nature of neuroplasticity – Neural space and resources in a neural map that were once dedicated to accessing a skill or knowledge that is no longer practiced may “shrink” or even disappear from the neural map; the map space for accessing the diminished skills is turned over to the skills we do practice.

The saying USE IT OR LOSE IT can apply to our neural maps.

The lose it feature can be good if you want to give up a bad habit but not so good if you lose important skills or memories. (Doidge, 2008)

  • The brain’s neuroplasticity responds to what we practice doing and thinking. With continuing practice and effort, like learning to play a new musical piece, the neural connections grow in strength, become more efficient, require less effort to do the same task and the resultant neural map for the skill appears more precise over time.

The saying USE IT & IMPROVE IT can also apply to our neural maps. The improve it feature requires frequent engagement and training (optimal practice time, targeted stimulus conditions, engagement of sensory & decision-making attention, progressive challenge, intermittent novelty and surprise, success experiences, feedback & rewards, active breaks (including cross-training) and rest (including sleep).

Automaticity develops as a result of use-it-&-improve-it plasticity, and means that well learned skills of sensing, thinking, and doing can be activated with little conscious effort, and a feeling of confidence and control. This frees up limited neural resources so that the mind can attend and adapt better to the application of the skills in a given situation. For example, when learning to drive, all the driver’s attention is captured by the tasks of using the steering wheel, brake and accelerator properly, and they are unable to give attention to where they are going, judging speed and distance for braking, or looking for potential hazards. Not to mention the extra effort involved in learning to change gears. As neuroplasticity establishes, develops and refines the neural maps for these actions and their coordination with perception, less conscious effort is required to do them, and the driver can attend more to where they are going and what they need to do – what cognitive scientists call executive control functions.

  • Positive and negative potentials of neuroplasticity.

The brain can adapt in useful, constructive ways, but it can also learn and adapt in dysfunctional ways too.

Positive changes include improving things like an ability to focus and pay close attention to details and learning new skills. Negative changes may include growing distractibility, slowing down of processing speed, and loss of accuracy, diminishing short-term memory and reasoning problems (Fernandez, 2013).

Positive neuroplastic change is greatly facilitated when the neuromodulator BDNF (Brain-derived-Neurotrophic-Factor) switches on the Nuclear Basalis to release acetylcholine into the relevant functional areas of the brain. In the adult brain, these processes are facilitated when the adult learner engages in a challenge that holds a personal relevance for the individual and is of sufficient intensity that engages their close attention sustained over a sufficient period of practice. Surprise, novelty, variety and use of multi-modalities also enrich positive neuroplastic processes through release of epinephrine. Feedback and successes release dopamine (rewarding) and serotonin ( for positive feelings, memory and learning).

New neural pathways are then consolidated via the USE IT & IMPROVE IT mechanisms. Once automaticity is established, neuroplasticity disengages, and the neural maps are only maintained according to the use-it-or-lose-it principle. Neuroplastic change is very much tied to the work of neuromodulators and the activation of the Nuclear Basalis. To switch it on you have to move out of your comfort zone and be open to change.

Learned Non-use is a form of negative brain plasticity. When the brain learns that it cannot use a particular function (eg, unsuccessfully trying to use an affected arm after a stroke), the neural map for that function breaks down. Neuroplasticity offers the potential that other neural resources could be re-deployed as the pathway for that function and its associated behaviours (e.g., using the affected arm). However, if an alternative behaviour is substituted (e.g. finding ways of coping with just one useful arm), learned non-use is reinforced and neuroplasticity is subverted by behavioural plasticity.

References

Doidge, Norman MD., The Brain that Changes Itself, Chp 3 (2011)
Fernandez, A Golderberg, E. Michelon, P. (2013) The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness, Revised Edition (2011), Scribe Melbournes 2nd Ed, P 217
Dr Michael Mezenich TEDX Talk 2009 http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_merzenich_on_the_elastic_brain.html
www.positscience.com/why-brainhq Accessed 22nd September 2013
www.positscience.com/howbraintrainingworks Accessed 6th January 2014
http://ebookbrowsee.net/neuroplasticity-revolution-norman-doidge-pdf-d417605719

Neuroplasticity - ACROSS THE LIFE SPAN

Neuroplasticity – ACROSS THE LIFE SPAN

From the day you are born and for the rest of your life your brain is in training. Everything you think, learn and do is training the 100 billion neurons in your brain to form patterns of behaviour or habits. The science of Neuroplasticity can now explain how, as we go through life, different cognitive and behavioural skills evolve over the life span in different ways.

 

1. In early childhood there are critical developmental periods when the major sensory and other functional areas in the brain are in an extremely plastic state. During early developmental periods there are intense periods of learning when everything is new and stimulating and learning appears easy; the brain’s maps are being refined and pruned based on learning and experience (e.g. Hubel & Wiesel’s work on development of visual processing in the 1960s and 70s). 3. neuro across life span 1.Nuc Basilis It is during this early childhood period that a nerve growth factor, Brain Derived Neutropic Factor (BDNF), is thought to play a number of crucial roles in cognitive development (Levi-Montalcini & Cohen 1986). One role of BDNF is to turn on the nucleus basalis and keep it “permanently on” during the critical period. The nucleus basalis secretes acetylcholine, which helps the brain “tune in” and form sharp memories. The nucleus basalis and attention system are the modulatory control system of neuroplasticity, making for an extremely plastic state (Merzenich 2008).

 

2. In later childhood and early teens the major neural connections are laid down and there is a need for stability in the system. Paradoxically BDNF is then released in sufficient quantities to turn off the nucleus basalis, which ends the effortless learning period. Even after the critical periods, positive brain plasticity continues to help the brain grow in efficient ways. The cerebral cortex, the thin outer layer of the brain, is actually selectively refining its processing capacities to fit each task at hand. It doesn’t simply learn; it is always “learning how to learn” (Merzenich 2011).

 

3. In adulthood each person’s unique assemblage of neural maps continue to be neuroplastic, evolving over time in response to experience and learning. Starting from our late twenties, gradual decline begins in some cognitive abilities. This happens, for example with processing speed (how long it takes to respond to and process information), memory and reasoning. Some abilities that rely on experience, such as vocabulary, pattern recognition and emotional self -regulation improve as we age. In summary, as we age we get better at dealing with the familiar, and worse with dealing with the new. We can continue to learn, but at a slower pace (Zelinski Interview, Sharp Brains 2013).

 

4. In our latter years it is thought that negative neuroplasticity may increasingly dominate the brain. As Merzenich explains, this is not necessarily just a biologically driven process, but may partly be the result of life circumstances:

When we become increasingly disengaged from our world there is reduced brain activity. Generally, by middle age it is possible to manage daily routines by applying skills mastered earlier in life. This means we can get by without needing to be consciously engaged in the things we’re doing, like being on ‘automatic pilot’. The less we challenge and stimulate the brain, the more negative plasticity processes begin to dominate brain functioning. We begin to notice that we are less ‘sharp’ and may find we have lost our spark for keeping an open, curious and vital mind.

By the age of 70 it is not uncommon to see clear age decline. It is known that genes account for only a portion of this decline. Much of it depends upon on our environment, lifestyle and actions (Zelinski in Fernandez, 2013). Awareness of neuroplasticity across the life span helps us to be better able to understand and play a positive role in our brain health and fitness and to strengthen the brain against age related decline. Neuroplasticity research makes it possible to select and use a personalized set of strategies that offer a best fit with our lifestyle for maintaining and even delaying the normal trajectory of age related cognitive decline. Interested in finding out more?

Contact for an obligation free consultation.

 

References

Doidge, Norman MD., The Brain that Changes Itself, Chp 3 (2011)
Fernandez, A Golderberg, E. Michelon, P. (2013) The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness, Revised Edition (2011), Scribe Melbournes2nd Ed, P 217
Henry W. Mahncke, Amy Bronstone, Michael M. Merzenich (2006), ‘Brain plasticity and functional losses in the aged: scientific bases for a novel intervention’ Progress in Brain Research, Volume 157, Pages 81–109;
Dr Michael Mezenich TEDX Talk 2009 http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_merzenich_on_the_elastic_brain.html
www.positscience.com/why-brainhq Accessed 22nd September 2013
www.positscience.com/howbraintrainingworks Accessed 6th January 2014
http://ebookbrowsee.net/neuroplasticity-revolution-norman-doidge-pdf-d417605719

Neuroplasticity - BRAIN PLASTICITY AND AGEING

Neuroplasticity – BRAIN PLASTICITY AND AGEING

The good news is that in the process of normal ageing each one of the following negative neuroplasticity processes is responsive to targeted brain training exercises and lifestyle choices that can promote positive neuroplasticity at any age. 

 

1. Sensory processes slowing down 4. Neuro Image1 Sensory processes

When we have trouble registering and processing new events through our sensory systems, our cognitive processing speed slows down, and the accuracy, strength, & sharpness with which we perceive declines. It is important that your brain does a good job with all of the small details of what you see or hear. Missing those details results in errors and confusion that can limit you—and it’s often impossible to even know what you’re missing. If you can’t register something clearly, then you are unable to remember it well. Most importantly, if your brain is fuzzy and imprecise in its most elemental operations, all of its higher operations in thinking and acting will suffer. You can practice those complex skills forever, but they just can’t improve very much if they have to rely on fuzzy or incomplete information (Mahncke 2006). The Internet based exercises require close attention and continually adjust to improvements in performance by requiring faster and finer discriminations. This pushes existing abilities to new and improved performance levels, improves memory and generalises to other daily living skills.

 

 

2. Difficulty combining our sensory information to interpret what we see, hear, taste

As we age we may experience difficulty combining our sensory information to understand and interpret what we see, hear, taste, etc. Loosing the ability to accurately interpret our environment or social experiences can lessen our confidence to engage and enjoy life’s experiences. IT exercises require practice at integrating information in order to select answers. Immediate feedback is given and exercises adjusted to provide just the right amount of challenge and rewards to promote learning.

 

 

3. Increasing mind chatter & distractibility 4.Neuro Image 2 (mind chatter)

When we experience increased chatter in the brain, it becomes less precise and less able to focus attention. If we can’t focus our attention, attend mindfully to our environment then it is difficult to do anything well. Doing IT brain training exercises and mindful activities that require sustained & close attention are an antidote to distractibility.

 

 

4. Doing the same old things, avoiding challenges or new experiences

Why does this matter? When we spend more time on “automatic pilot”, the nucleus basalis secretes less acetylcholine, a neuromodulator that is necessary for us to tune in to experiences and form memories. In a person with mild cognitive impairment the acetylcholine produced in the nucleus basalis is not even measurable. If we want to be able to continue to learn and flourish its important to challenge our brains with a variety of experiences to stimulate the brain’s control mechanisms and its neuromodulators such as acetylcholine (attention), dopamine (rewards), nor epinephrine (novelty), serotonin (learning, memory & sense of well being).

 

How can we use this knowledge about the ageing brain?

By understanding what happens in the ageing brain it is possible to recognise both our cognitive strengths (and how to maintain them) and areas capable of improvement. Using this understanding we can design a brain training program where the adopted strategy addresses an underlying problem (like speed of processing) that is needed to perform a daily activity (like driving) and achieve a goal (like maintaining safe and confident driving) that has personal relevance for each person’s lifestyle. Interested in finding out more?

Interested in finding out how brain training can benefit you? Contact for an obligation free consultation.

 

References

Doidge, Norman MD., The Brain that Changes Itself, Chp 3 (2011)
Fernandez, A Golderberg, E. Michelon, P. (2013) The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness, Revised Edition (2011),Scribe Melbournes2nd Ed, P 217
Henry W. Mahncke, Amy Bronstone, Michael M. Merzenich (2006),‘Brain plasticity and functional losses in the aged: scientific bases for a novel intervention’ Progress in Brain Research, Volume 157, Pages 81–109;
Dr Michael Mezenich ‘TEDX Talk’ 2009 http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_merzenich_on_the_elastic_brain.html

Neuroplasticity - USING THE BRAIN’S CAPACITY TO CHANGE

Neuroplasticity – USING THE BRAIN’S CAPACITY TO CHANGE

While you might occasionally forget things, like the name of someone you recognise, or you mindlessly misplace your bag and the kids get to have a good laugh at you, the good news is that it’s not all downhill from this point, as was once thought.5. Neuro Image 1 While your brain might not be as plastic as it once was, it’s still capable of incredible change. According to Doidge,

We are all on a continuum and all of us have these areas that are not functioning okay and others that are functioning okay. Anyone can benefit because neuroplasticity is the modus operandi of the brain. It’s the way it works. (Doidge, 2011)

Merzenich leads a team of scientists at Positscience who have developed brain training exercises as a way to help people preserve brain plasticity as they age and to extend mental lifespan. The exercises are designed on the principles of neuroplasticity and tested by independent researchers, such as in the ACTIVE, IMPACT & IHAMS studies.

 

In summary  PositScience’s brain-training exercises have been tested in clinical trials and found to improve neurological abilities with improvements generalising into broader outcomes like improved memory, self-confidence and other quality of life measures. The general goals of the evidence-based exercises include:

  • Brightening your spirit
  • Speeding up brain processes
  • Sharpening processing accuracy
  • Improving fast recognition abilities
  • Reducing mind chatter and improving attention, sensory accuracy and memory
  • Revitalising the power of the brain ‘s control mechanisms that help you learn and remember

These brain training IT exercises are best when practiced three or more times a week. Merzenich recommends as part of our daily routines we also spend time doing one or more activities:

  • Physical exercise where we pay attention to our movement and take in the details of our environment
  • Intensive, effortful learning that requires our close attention
  • Mindful activities that engage the senses as if we are seeing, feeling tasting for the first time and practice recalling the details of those experiences
  • Engaging in activities where it is possible to have surprising and novel experiences
  • Practicing activities that require refined movements of a specific domain of the body and
  • Staying socially and intellectually engaged.

Zelinski recommends a similar set of strategies for delaying age related cognitive decline:

  • Preventing or managing health diseases like high blood pressure or diabetes;
  • Aerobic exercise as an overall contributor to positive cognitive health;
  • Directed & targeted brain training exercises, with sound evidence base and
  • Positive emotional connections with family and friends.

Interested in finding out more? Contact for an obligation free consultation.

 

References

Doidge, Norman MD., The Brain that Changes Itself, Chp 3 (2011)
Fernandez, A Golderberg, E. Michelon, P. (2013) The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness, Revised Edition (2011), Scribe Melbournes2nd Ed,
Henry W. Mahncke, Amy Bronstone, Michael M. Merzenich (2006), ‘Brain plasticity and functional losses in the aged: scientific bases for a novel intervention’ Progress in Brain Research, Volume 157, Pages 81–109;
Dr Michael Mezenich ‘TEDX Talk ‘2009 http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_merzenich_on_the_elastic_brain.html
www.positscience.com/why-brainhq Accessed 22nd September 2013
www.positscience.com/howbraintrainingworks Accessed 6th January 2014
http://ebookbrowsee.net/neuroplasticity-revolution-norman-doidge-pdf-d417605719 Zelinski E., as cited in Fernandez, A Golderberg, E. Michelon, P. (2013) The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness, Revised Edition (2011), Scribe Melbournes2nd Ed, pg 120-123

Neuroplasticity - SUMMARY OF KEY RESEARCH STUDIES

Neuroplasticity – SUMMARY OF KEY RESEARCH STUDIES

The following studies independently assessed PositScience’s brain training exercises and published results in peer-reviewed journals. Summary of the results:

A. ACTIVE Study

  • Large improvements in cognitive abilities
  • 35.6% reduction in risk of serious health-related quality of life decline
  • Effects that last 5+ years

B. IMPACT Study

  • Ability to take in and process information twice as quickly than before they started the exercises
  • On average memory improved an equivalent of approximately 10 years
  • Three out of four people who used the games self reported positive changes in their everyday lives

C. IMHAS Study

Compared training on a PositScience’s BrainHQ exercises against training on crossword puzzles. Results showed

  • The group that trained on BrainHQ made significant improvements on several cognitive functioning tests compared to participants who trained on crossword puzzles
  • There was no difference between the 50-64 age group or 65 and older group in their ability to make gains after using BRAIN HQ exercises.

D. Summary of studies testing DRIVE SHARP IT EXERCISES

BrainHQ’s DRIVE SHARP brain-training exercises have been tested and results published in more than 60 peer-reviewed publications. The exercises have been proven to improve visual perception and Useful Field Of View (UFOV). UFOV is the area over which a person can take in information from a scene at a single glance. Reductions in UFOV occur due to normal ageing or through injury or disease. Research has shown that UFOV can be expanded significantly using computerised brain training exercises, and result in a reduction in crash rate. These visual improvements translate into safer driving such as a 50% reduction in driver related crashes. In some studies, subjects with 10 hours of BrainHQ training had positive lasting effects on driving that persisted for more than five years.

References

www.positscience.com/research Accessed 6th January 2014
Fernandez, A Golderberg, E. Michelon, P. (2013) The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness, Revised Edition (2011), Scribe Melbournes 2nd Ed,

Neuroplasticity - Research - ACTIVE Study

Neuroplasticity – Research – ACTIVE Study

A pioneering study with groundbreaking results involving 2,832 participants, the ACTIVE Study is the largest study on cognitive training ever performed. ACTIVE is an acronym for Advanced Cognitive Training in the Independent and Vital Elderly. Funded by the National Institutes of Health and led by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the National Institute on Ageing, the Indiana University School of Medicine, Penn State University, and others, the ACTIVE study proves that healthy older adults can make significant cognitive improvements with appropriate cognitive training and practice. It also demonstrates that Posit Science training drives improvements that are significantly better than other types of cognitive exercise.

Study Goals 

The ACTIVE study was designed to compare three different types of cognitive training: one that focused on memory, one that targeted reasoning, and Posit Science training that exercised speed of processing. The study was conducted at six sites across the United States, and all of the participants were healthy adults aged 65 or older. Researchers followed participants for five or more years to evaluate the long-term effects of training.

Superior Results from Posit Science Training

All three types of cognitive training tested in the ACTIVE study resulted in cognitive improvements, but participants who used Posit Science training experienced the best results overall. According to the study, 87% of the participants who used Posit Science training showed increases in cognitive ability, while 74% of participants who used reasoning training and 26% of those who used memory training showed improvements. Posit Science training also reduced the risk of serious decline in health-related quality of life by 35%, and reduced the risk of decline in people’s abilities to perform instrumental tasks of daily living.

Lasting Effects

ACTIVE study participants who used the Posit Science training experienced cognitive improvements that continued at  five year  and  ten year follow-up studies. Posit Science training not only helps people improve their cognitive abilities, but it can also help them stay healthier and more independent for longer periods of time.

Summary of Study Results

  • Large improvements in cognitive abilities
  • 35.6% reduction in risk of serious health-related quality of life decline
  • Effects that last 5+ years without further training

The ACTIVE Study Design7. Neuro Image 1 active study

  • Multi-center
  • Prospective
  • Randomised
  • Controlled
  • Single-blind

References:

www.positscience.com/why-brainhq Accessed 22nd September 2013
Ball, K; Berch DB, Helmers KF, et al. (2002). Effects of cognitive training interventions with older adults: a randomized controlled trial”JAMA 288(18): 2271–81. doi:10.1001/jama.288.18.2271PMC 2916176.PMID 12425704.
George W. Rebok PhD1,2,*, Karlene Ball PhD3, Lin T. Guey PhD4, Richard N. Jones ScD5, Hae-Young Kim DrPH4, Jonathan W. King PhD6, Michael Marsiske PhD7,8, John N. Morris PhD5, Sharon L. Tennstedt PhD4, Frederick W. Unverzagt PhD9 and Sherry L. Willis PhD10 ,Ten-Year Effects of the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly Cognitive Training Trial on Cognition and Everyday Functioning in Older Adults ,  J Am Geriatr Soc 62:16–24, 2014.

Neuroplasticity - Research - IMPACT Study

Neuroplasticity – Research – IMPACT Study

With 487 participants, the IMPACT study is a large clinical trial that examined whether a specially designed, widely available cognitive training program significantly improves cognitive abilities in adults. Led by distinguished scientists from Mayo Clinic and the University of Southern California, the IMPACT study proves that people can make statistically significant gains in memory and processing speed if they do the right kind of scientifically designed cognitive exercises. The study was conducted on the original Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, which contains six auditory exercises from BrainHQ: Sound Sweeps (previously called High or Low?), Fine Tuning (previously called Tell Us Apart), Memory Grid (previously called Match It!), Syllable Stacks (previously called Sound Replay), To-do List Training (previously called Listen and Do), and In the Know (previously called Story Teller). Study participants trained in these exercises for a total of approximately 40 hours.

 

Specifically, the IMPACT study found that:

  • People who used the Posit Science exercises got better at the exercise tasks. This finding isn’t unusual; people are expected to improve at exercises they were taught to do and practiced. The vast majority of other studies that have examined cognitive fitness training only report this fact and provide no other results.
  • Improvements “generalized” (or extended) to multiple standard memory tests. “Gold standard” memory assessments—tests that are widely known to and accepted by doctors—showed that the Posit Science exercises genuinely improve memory overall. This is a significant breakthrough. It indicates that the exercises don’t just teach “memory tricks” or train people to play a computer game really well; they actually generalize to improve brain function more broadly. It’s the difference between giving someone with an injured knee a crutch to compensate for his limitations and actually fixing the knee so the crutch isn’t needed
  • The group of people who used the Posit Science exercises in the study reported positive changes in their everyday lives. These benefits ranged from remembering a shopping list without having to write it down; to hearing conversations in noisy restaurants more clearly; to being more independent, feeling more self-confident, to finding words more easily and having improved self-esteem in general.

 

Statistically Significant Gains:

IMPACT study participants who used the Posit Science exercises experienced statistically significant gains in several areas. Following are just a few:

  • Participants who used the Posit Science exercises increased their auditory processing speed by 131%. This means that the brains of the people who used the exercises could take in and process information (such as speech) more than twice as quickly after they completed the exercises than before. That could mean following much more of a conversation.
  • On average, people who used the Posit Science exercises experienced an improvement in memory equivalent to approximately 10 years. They also made statistically significant gains (performed much better) in four standard memory tests used in the study.
  • Three out of four people who used the Posit Science exercises self-reported positive changes in their everyday lives. People didn’t just test better, they noticed changes in their daily lives as well—perhaps the most meaningful result of all.

These results had statistical significance over those for people in the active control group, who followed a computer-based program of active learning.

 

Evidence for Cognitive Change:

The IMPACT study proves that cognitive decline is not inevitable and irreversible. Adults —regardless of their education level, IQ, or other demographic factors— can improve their cognitive abilities. Just as every adult can benefit from physical exercise, every adult can benefit from the right kind of cognitive fitness training as well. Using Posit Science exercises available as part of BrainHQ can effectively strengthen and build memory and processing speed. These improvements help people perform better at work, connect better with others, enjoy their favourite activities more, and keep up with daily tasks efficiently.

 

The IMPACT Study Design

  • Multi-center
  • Prospective
  • Randomised
  • Controlled
  • Double-blind

Reference:

www.positscience.com/why-brainhq Accessed 22nd September 2013

Neuroplasticity - Research - IMHAS Study

Neuroplasticity – Research – IMHAS Study

First Study to Show Brain Training Outperforms Crossword Puzzles

A study known as IHAMS (Iowa Healthy and Active Minds Study) pitted a BrainHQ exercise against crossword puzzles. Researchers at the University of Iowa, reporting in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE found that the group using the computerised exercise for just 10 hours had significant gains in cognitive function, while the group doing crosswords on the computer for an equal amount of time had no significant improvements. The study also broke new scientific ground in comparing older and younger users, users on their own at home against users in a supervised setting, and users spending varying amounts of time on the brain fitness exercise.1 The IHAMS research project was led by principal investigator Dr. Fred Wolinsky from the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Iowa, and funded by the US National Institute of Health.

 

Study Design and Goals 

IHAMS was designed to overcome the limitations of the ACTIVE study (whose participants were all age 65 or older) by including younger participants (ages 50 or older). The 681 IHAMS participants were randomised into four groups: the first received 10 hours of onsite brain training with a Posit Science exercise that improves speed of processing and useful field of view (called Double Decision in BrainHQ). The game-like exercise was originally developed with funding from the National Institutes of Health and is now commercially available from the brain fitness company Posit Science. The researchers separated 681 generally healthy people into four groups. One group was given computerised crossword puzzles, while the other three groups did the brain fitness exercise in different settings – on their own at home, in a supervised setting, or in a supervised setting with four extra hours of “booster” training. Researchers also compared participants’ aged 50-64 against those aged 65-plus. All groups were assessed prior to the start of the study, at 6 to 8 weeks into the study, and then at 12 months. The IHAMS study had multiple goals, one of which was to determine if brain training was superior to “standard” activities for brain improvement—in this case, crossword puzzles. Dr. Fred Wolinsky, John W. Colloton Chair in Health Management and Policy, University of Iowa and lead author of the study said:

There has been debate in the scientific community regarding how well brain training works versus other recreational mental activities, such as learning a new language or doing crossword puzzles. This study clearly demonstrates that the use of specially constructed exercises for the purpose of brain fitness – such as the speed-of-processing exercises in BrainHQ – not only work, they are far more effective at improving cognitive function than other games or recreational activities.

 

Superior Results from Posit Science Training

Initial results showed that participants who used the Posit Science exercise showed significantly larger improvements in their cognitive capabilities on several standard neuropsychological tests of cognitive functioning than did the participants who trained on crossword puzzles. The improvements in cognitive function were the same whether the brain exercises were done in the monitored clinical setting or in the participant’s home. These positive changes were observed in as little as 8 weeks, and were sustained over 12 months. The sub-group of participants that received an extra four hours of training posted even greater gains. The improvements for the younger participants were just as large as those for the older participants, indicating that brain training could and should be started sooner rather than later. There was no difference between the group aged 50-64 and the group aged 65 and older in their ability to make large gains. In addition, the researchers noted that people who did the exercises on their own at home did just as well as people who did them under supervision. This indicates that the training can be widely deployed at low cost and to remote areas.

 

References:

1 Wolinsky FD, Vander Weg MW, Howren MB, Jones MP, Dotson MM (2013) “A Randomized Controlled Trial of Cognitive Training Using a Visual Speed of Processing Intervention in Middle Aged and Older Adults.” PLoS ONE 8(5): e61624. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0061624 2. www.positscience.com/why-brainhq Accessed 22nd September 2013

Neuroplasticity - Research - IT BRAIN TRAINING FOR SAFER DRIVING

Neuroplasticity – Research – IT BRAIN TRAINING FOR SAFER DRIVING & MOBILITY

Our eyes need to take in a lot of information from the world when we drive but limitations in brain processing means that we can only pay attention to a small portion of it. As a consequence we often fail to notice important information that is clearly in our field of view because our attention is focused elsewhere. One compelling example of this limitation is known as “attentional blindness”.

One computer-based test of visual attention has proven to be a very good predictor of crash risk. The test is known as UFOV (Useful Field of View) and measures the area of the visual field that a person can attend to in a single glance.  A person with a reduced UFOV has an increased crash risk because potential hazards are less likely to be noticed. Studies have shown that the UFOV test is more predictive than any other cognitive or visual test of crash risk.

UFOV decreases in size with age due to degraded visual processing in the brain. Scientists used to think that declines in these processes were inevitable and nothing could be done about it. However, in recent years it has been clearly demonstrated that the brain is ‘plastic’ and can change in a positive direction given the right type of stimulation. Computer-based brain training programs, developed by PositScience (Brain HQ) use knowledge of brain plasticity to improve visual processing that expand the UFOV.

The ACTIVE study was a large independent study that tested the efficacy of PositScience’s (now Brain HQ) training programs. It included BrainHQ’s visual exercises that aim to improve UFOV in older drivers. ACTIVE is an acronym for Advanced Cognitive Training in the Independent and Vital Elderly. It is the largest, blind, randomised control, clinical trial to examine the effects of cognitive IT training and had several thousand participants. The researchers examined state crash records in the 5 year period following training of subjects in the control and experimental groups. Two key results:

    • People who performed poorly on the Brain HQ’s visual programs before training were twice as likely to have been in an automobile accident in the previous three years.
    • People who completed 10 hours of Brain HQ’s visual training program move into lower crash risk categories.

These results confirm the importance of fast and efficient visual processing for safe driving. They are also consistent with results from other randomised controlled studies and show that crash risk can be reduced in the general population by using these targeted visual exercises.

More recently four specific exercises from PositScience were tested in a randomised control trial that showed that participants (average age 80) had significantly better scores than a control group on fall of risk and mobility than a control group after 10 hours of training.  A summary of the study may be accessed on PubMed http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24192586. An implication of this research is to underscore the “bi-directional nature” of the mind-body connection. Just as physical exercise has been shown to improve certain cognitive functions, this study shows that brain exercise can improve certain physical functions (such as balance and walking).

Here is a summary of some of  results of studies that tested PositScience’s visual training programs:

  • Reduces at-fault crash rate by 51% (Ball, Edwards et al. 2009)
  • Reduces dangerous manouvres by 36% and improved reaction times (Roenker, Cissell et al. 2003)
  • Reduces risk of driving cessation by 40% (Edwards, Delahunt et al. 2009)
  • Maintains driving distance and driving in difficult situations (Edwards, Myers et al. 2009)
  • Helps maintain instrumental activities of daily living (e.g., shopping, finances) (Willis, Tennstedt et al. 2006)
  • Improves speed of daily activities such as finding items in a cupboard, counting change (Edwards, Wadley et al. 2005)
  • Reduces declines in health related quality of life (Wolinsky, Unverzagt et al. 2006)
  • Reduces risk of depression onset (Wolinsky, Mahncke et al. 2009)
  • Reduced medical expenditures (Wolinsky, Mahncke et al. 2009)
  • Reduces risk of falls and improves gait while distracted (Smith-Ray RL et al 2013)
  • Are more likely to keep their drivers’ licenses later in life, leading to extended independence and higher quality of life (O’Connor MLHudak EM, Edwards JD 2011)

 

References

Peter Delahunt, DriveSharp, Proven to Keep You Safe on the Road, August 30, 2010. accessed www.positscience.com (September2013)
www.positscience.com/why-brainhq/world-class-science/peer-reviewed-research/published-scientific-studies, accesses 22nd Sept 2013
Ball, K., J. Edwards, et al. (2009). The Effects of Training on Driving Competence – Crash Risk. Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting. Washington DC, USA
Roenker, D. L., G. M. Cissell, et al. (2003). “Speed-of-processing and driving simulator training result in improved driving performance.” Human Factors 45(2): 218-233.
Edwards, J. D., P. B. Delahunt, et al. (2009). “Cognitive Speed of Processing Training Delays Driving Cessation.” J Gerontology and Biol Sci Med Sci.
Edwards, J. D., C. Myers, et al. (2009). “The Longitudinal Impact of Cognitive Speed of Processing Training on Driving Mobility.” Gerontologist.
Willis, S. L., S. L. Tennstedt, et al. (2006). “Long-term effects of cognitive training on everyday functional outcomes in older adults.” JAMA 296(23): 2805-2814.
Edwards, J. D., V. G. Wadley, et al. (2005). “The impact of speed of processing training on cognitive and everyday performance.” Aging Mental Health 9(3): 262-271.
Wolinsky, F. D., F. W. Unverzagt, et al. (2006). “The ACTIVE cognitive training trial and health-related quality of life: protection that lasts for 5 years.” J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 61(12): 1324-1329.
Wolinsky, F. D., H. W. Mahncke, et al. (2009). “The ACTIVE Cognitive Training Interventions and the Onset of and Recovery from Suspected Clinical Depression.” J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci.
Wolinsky, F. D., H. W. Mahncke, et al. (2009). “The ACTIVE cognitive training trial and predicted medical expenditures.”BMC Health Serv Res9: 109.
SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/IanMacbook/Desktop/Research%20into%20BRAIN%20TRAINING%20%20FOR%20SAFE%20DRIVING.docx Smith-Ray RL1, Hughes SLProhaska TRLittle DMJurivich DAHedeker D. (2013). “Impact of Cognitive Training and gait in Older Adults.” J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2013 Nov 5. [Epub ahead of print] on http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24192586
O’Connor ML, Hudak EM, Edwards JD. (2011) “Cognitive Speed of Processing Training Can Promote Community Mobility among Older Adults: A Brief Review.” J Aging Res. 2011; 2011:430802. doi: 10.4061/2011/430802. Epub 2011 May 22.

Well being - HAPPINESS & POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY

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Well being - HAPPINESS & 40% SOLUTION

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Well being - STRESS RESPONSE

STRESS RESPONSE

The Stress Response is a scientific term describing an automatically triggered response from the brain following (or even in anticipation of) the perception of a threat or challenge, either to ourselves or to others. When faced with a threat or challenge to survival, the Stress Response engages the autonomic nervous system (via the sympathetic division) in conjunction with neuro-endocrine systems (e.g. Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis). This results in an intense burst of energy (increased heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose), hypes up those physical systems ready for Fight or Flight and suppresses those systems that do not contribute to fighting or fleeing. When we anticipate or perceive a threat, neurotransmitters in the neural circuitry automatically shut down our conscious mode of operations, making it difficult to exercise complex thoughts, problem solving or creative thinking. Decision-making becomes automatic and directed by non-conscious habits and biases (Gordon, E., 2012) This can be helpful in emergencies requiring speedy response but may be less helpful in situations when a creative or considered solution is needed – but instead we find ourselves making an “ instinctual knee jerk reaction”. When action has been taken in response to a threat, and the situation has resolved in one way or another, the Stress Response system changes into recovery phase and gradually returns to a normal state, often referred to as “Rest and Digest”.

What are some key features of the stress response?

Hans Seyle adapted the term ‘stress’ from physics to describe the different states of the Flight or Fight Response, and the situations which induce stress were called stressors. Stress doesn’t just happen in response to physical threats and challenges. It turns out that there are many kinds of stress – physical, psychological, physiological and there are many pathways by which the brain and body responds to the demands of stress. The Stress Response may be short term or prolonged:

  • Short term Stress Response may happen when there is a momentary threat or even the thought of a threat. An action response to the threat is followed by a recovery phase.
  • Chronic stress occurs when the stress response is continuously or repeatedly switched on without a proper recovery phase;

The Stress Response has a ‘dose effect’ on the functioning of our brain and body. The ‘dose’ depends on –

  • The intensity of the Stress Response,
  • The duration of the Stress Response,
  • The frequency of the Stress Response and
  • Whether action and recovery phases follow the onset of Stress Response

Repeated small doses of stress can have a cumulative effect, which is worsened if action and recovery phases are unsatisfactory. People differ in their resilience in face of the cumulative dose of repeated or chronic stress. Everyone has a threshold dose beyond which their physiological and psychological systems are unable to cope. But that threshold dose is not the same for everyone, and an individual person’s stress threshold can change for better or worse over their lifetime of experiences.

What is the significance of stress response?

Stress is an inevitable part of life and the Stress Response is not all bad; it is an adaptive mechanism to help us “take control” of a situation. When the stressor has passed, the parasympathetic division of the Autonomic nervous system helps the body return to baseline levels. Chronic stress, on the other hand is not desirable. Chronic stress may lead to pathological conditions in the cardiovascular system, immune system, reproductive system, memory, emotional and social life and these effects may spiral into serious health issues. Interested in finding out more?

Contact for an obligation free consultation.

References

Doidge, Norman MD., The Brain that Changes Itself, Chp 3 (2011)
Ferandez, A Golderberg, E. Michelon, P. (2013) The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness, Revised Edition (2011), Scribe Melbournes 2nd Ed, P 217
Gordon, E., 2012, BrainRevolution, Brain Revolution Publications, 2012
Lyubomirsky, Sonja, The How of Happiness: a new approach to getting the life you want, Penguin Books, London, 2008
Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, . “Positive psychology: An introduction.” American Psychologist, 55:5-14, 2000
Seligman, Martin, Authentic Happiness: using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfilment, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London, 2003
Sapolsky R.,Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers Holt paperbacks, New York, third edition, 2004
Ricard, Matthieu, Happiness, A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, Atlantic Books, Great Britain, 2007

Well being - RELAXATION RESPONSE

RELAXATION RESPONSE

It turns out our bodies have a response that counterbalances the Stress Response. It is called the Relaxation Response. When the Relaxation Response is triggered, we become deeply relaxed and yet remain aware and are able to attend to what is happening in the present moment.

Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers explains that when the Relaxation Response is being triggered, it is not possible to simultaneously trigger the Stress Response. He compared it to driving – ‘you can’t put your right foot on the brake and on the gas (accelerator) at the same time.’ In other words only one of the two responses can be triggered at any one time.

The Relaxation Response does not include things like laying on the couch, sleeping or being lazy. While these actions may or may not help someone calm down and recover from a hectic day or stressful episode, they are not what is meant by the Relaxation Response. Rather, the Relaxation Response is a mentally active process that leaves the body relaxed, is best done in an awake state, is trainable and becomes more effective with practice.

What is the significance of relaxation response?

Dr Herbert Benson (b 1935), Director Emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, first defined the Relaxation Response in the 1970s and linked it to lower stress levels. Through research he identified an association between meditation and the Relaxation Response. Benson recognised the Relaxation Response was also associated with lowering blood pressure, slowing respiration and metabolism, and decreasing other physiological symptoms of stress that can be damaging to health and well being, such as reducing neurogenesis, memory and general mental flexibility.

Recently Benson and a team of scientists conducted a genetic study that identified how the regular practice of meditation facilitates physiological pathways responsible for producing health benefits at the level of genes in cells of our body.

How can we trigger the relaxation response?

There are many ways of achieving the Relaxation Response. Some of these techniques include:

➣ Progressive Muscle Relaxation (tense & relax)

➣ Visual Imagery

➣Deep Breathing

➣ Meditation

➣ Hypnosis

➣ Yoga

➣ Biofeedback.

Finding which relaxation techniques will work best for you is a personal journey (and can be fun). Best results come if you use a relaxation exercise on a daily basis. Developing a routine that fits one relaxation technique in your day helps to establish it as a practice. Using something in your environment (like a sound or a shape) can help to remind you to fit relaxation into your day. As life circumstances change the technique that you choose to use for relaxation may change too.

The relaxation response may be used to help toward managing stress, increasing attention and concentration and with managing the symptoms of many stress induced health conditions.

Please note: Health experts recommend that meditation should not be used to replace traditional medical therapies, but rather to complement them. While useful for things like symptom management and a healthier response to stress, meditation has not been shown to cure or treat any underlying organic disease, which produces the symptoms.

Interested in finding out more? Contact for an obligation free consultation.

References

Doidge, Norman MD., The Brain that Changes Itself, Chp 3 (2011)
Ferandez, A Golderberg, E. Michelon, P. (2013) The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness, Revised Edition (2011), Scribe Melbournes 2nd Ed, P 217
Gordon, E., 2012,BrainRevolution, Brain Revolution Publications, 2012
Lyubomirsky, Sonja, The How of Happiness: a new approach to getting the life you want, Penguin Books, London, 2008
Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, . “Positive psychology: An introduction.” American Psychologist, 55:5-14, 2000
Seligman, Martin, Authentic Happiness: using the new positive psychology to realise your potential for lasting fulfilment, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London, 2003
Sapolsky R.,Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers Holt paperbacks, New York, third edition, 2004
Ricard, Matthieu, Happiness, A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, Atlantic Books, Great Britain, 2007

Well being - MEDITATION FOR IMPROVING ATTENTION & CONCENTRATION

MEDITATION FOR IMPROVING ATTENTION & CONCENTRATION

Being able to concentrate and manage distractions is one of the most important things we do. Whether for playing sport, a musical instrument, a new language or job – whatever our pursuit…….., our performance and ability to learn new things is dependent on our ability to focus. In fact the ability to control our impulses and focus our attention has even been found to be a better predictor of academic success than IQ (Duckworth 2005).

As a community we spend vast sums a year on “smart drugs” that enhance attention. A number of research studies have found it is possible to improve our ability to sustain attention-using techniques like mindfulness meditation (MacLean 2010).

One study looked at how four days of mindfulness training for just 20 minutes per day could help on a battery of cognitive tests. The researchers in this study found that the mindfulness meditation practitioners performed particularly well on tasks with time constraints, suggesting that mindfulness could be useful for any of us who have to work to deadlines too (Zeidan 2010).

Not only have scientists observed changes in people’s performance after completing attention tasks, but they’ve also found corresponding changes in the structure and function of meditators’ brains.  After 11hrs of meditation, neuroscientists found that mindfulness meditation practitioners had structural changes around the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain involved in monitoring our focus and self- control (Tang 2010).

So if you would like to feel less distracted, focus better and live constructively with emotional responses why not try a program at Mindnasium?

Interested in finding out more? Contact for an obligation free consultation.

References

Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2005). ‘Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents.’ Psychological Science, 16(12), 939-944
MacLean, K. A., Ferrer, E., Aichele, S. R., Bridwell, D. A., Zanesco, A. P., Jacobs, T. L., . . . Saron, C. D. (2010). ‘Intensive Meditation Training Improves Perceptual Discrimination and Sustained Attention.’ Psychological Science, 21(6), 829-839.
Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). ‘Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training.’ Consciousness and Cognition, 19(2), 597-605
Tang, Y.-Y., Lu, Q., Geng, X., Stein, E. A., Yang, Y., & Posner, M. I. (2010). ‘Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate.’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(35), 15649-15652.

Well being - MEDITATION & THE RELAXATION RESPONSE

MEDITATION & THE RELAXATION RESPONSE

Many of us feel like we have too much to do, life’s moving too fast and then we can experience difficulty relaxing or switching off because of nagging worries. This is how we can end up feeling stressed for much of the time.

Stress is primarily designed to help us get out of the way of physical danger, like when we see a large fin swim close by us in the water.  When we feel threatened a part of our brain called the amygdala, which works like an automatic alarm bell, triggers the “fight or flight” response of our nervous system. Our blood is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, increasing our heart rate and blood pressure, as well as our respiration. Our body is transporting energy to our muscles, without us even thinking about it, so we are ready to ‘act fast’.

This heightened state is helpful when we face a physical threat, and need to get away, but it does little to help us with daily worries or psychological threats, like when we’ve got to make a speech, get caught in traffic jam and know we will be late to pick up the kids or forget to hit save on a word document. But the response is still the same.

When our mind registers any threat it channels the body’s energy into getting out of immediate danger. To do this, it shuts down normal functions, like our digestive system and immune system, which are taking up energy. A bit of stress in short doses is useful in improving our memory and enhancing performance. And stress that can be physically worked off, is less of a problem.

However, too much stress, too regularly, and at times when we are unable to move around, can, over time, be extremely damaging to our mental and physical well-being. It can lead to heart problems, digestive problems, immune illnesses, … the list goes on… While stress activates the “fight or flight” part of our nervous system, there are wellness practices like relaxation, meditation, sharing a laugh with friends or being present in the moment, which can help trigger the “rest and digest” part of our nervous system. This helps with stress management.   Our heart rate slows, our respiration slows and our blood pressure drops.

This restorative response is referred to as the “relaxation response”, and it works naturally in our body to recover from flight or fight episodes (Benson 1974)

A study performed at Stanford found that an 8-week mindfulness meditation course reduced the reactivity of the amygdala and increased activity in areas of the prefrontal cortex that help regulate emotions, subsequently reducing stress (Goldpin 2010)

Researchers from Harvard discovered corresponding changes in the physical structure of the brain with a similar meditation course; there was a lower density of neurons in the amygdala and greater density of neurons in areas involved in emotional control providing a realistic and maintainable stress management technique (Hölzel 2011).

So, if you’d like to improve health and reduce stress, then why not try meditation for wellbeing at Mindnasium?

Contact for an obligation free consultation.

 

References

Benson H, Beary JF, Carol MP (1974): ‘The relaxation response’, Psychiatry, 37: 37-45
Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). ‘Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. ‘ Emotion, 10(1), 83-91.
Hölzel, B. K., J. Carmody, M. Vangel, C. Congleton, S. M. Yerramsetti, T. Gard & S. W. Lazar (2011) ‘Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density’, Neuroimaging, Vol 191, 36-43.

Well being - MEDITATION & THE IMMUNE SYSTEM

MEDITATION & THE IMMUNE SYSTEM

Our immune system is important to us because it protects us against infection and disease. It has been estimated that up to 90% of doctor visits are stress related and one reason is because chronic stress affects our immune system (Perkins 1994).

During the first few minutes of getting stressed our immune system actually strengthens, as if we’re in physical danger and about to be hurt, so that we have a few more antibodies in our system to help speed healing later. However if the stress goes on longer, or keeps re occurring, which can happen when we continually worry, the strength of our immune system plummets, leaving us vulnerable to colds, flu and worse. A number of studies have demonstrated that mindfulness meditation for wellbeing significantly boosts the immune system. In one such study, stressed-out employees from a Silicon Valley company were taught an 8-week meditation course. At the end of the course the participants, and an untrained control group were given the flu vaccine to test immune system response. Follow-up blood tests revealed that the mindfulness group generated a significantly greater number of antibodies than those who didn’t have the mindfulness training (Davidson 2003).

Meditation has also been found to help with a number of other physical ailments including irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue and psoriasis (Gaylord 2004) & (Rimes 2011).

In another research study at University of Massachusetts Medical School, researchers found that the psoriasis of mindfulness practitioners cleared at about 4 times the rate of the non-meditators (Kabat-Zinn 1998).

So, if you’d like to improve health, strengthen your immune system, and develop greater physical and psychological resilience, then why not try meditation for wellbeing?

Contact us at Mindnasium for an obligation free consultation.

Please note: Health experts recommend that meditation should not be used to replace traditional medical therapies, but rather to complement them. While useful for things like symptom management and a healthier response to stress, meditation has not been shown to cure or treat any underlying organic disease, which produces the symptoms.

References

Perkins, A. (1994). ‘Saving money by reducing stress.’ Harvard Business Review, 72(6), 12.
Davidson, R. J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S. F., et al. (2003). ‘Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation.’ Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(4), 564–570.
Gaylord SA, Whitehead WE, Coble RS, Faurot KR, Palsson OS, Garland EL, Frey W, Mann JD. ‘Mindfulness for irritable bowel syndrome: protocol development for a controlled clinical trial.’ BMC: Complement Altern Med. 2009;9:24.
Rimes, K. A. and Wingrove (2011). ‘Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for People with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Still Experiencing Excessive Fatigue after Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: A Pilot Randomized Study.’   Journal of Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy.
Kabat-Zinn, J., Wheeler, E., Light, T., Skillings, A., Scharf, M. J., Cropley, T. G., et al. (1998). ‘Influence of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention on rates of skin clearing in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing phototherapy (UVB) and photochemotherapy (PUVA).’ Psychosomatic Medicine, 60(5), 625-632