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Our understanding of the human brain has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Until about the 1970s, the scientific community largely believed that the brain was only “plastic,” or changeable, in early childhood, and was then “set” for the rest of one’s life.
However, the world of neuroscience has been flipped on its head. Decades of research now show that many aspects of the brain remain changeable throughout one's lifetime. These studies demonstrate that substantial changes occur in the lowest neocortical processing areas, and that these changes can profoundly alter the pattern of neuronal activation in response to experience. Neuroscientific research now indicates that experience can actually change both the brain's physical structure (anatomy) and functional organization (physiology).
This is GREAT NEWS!
As a result of this new realization, three terms have emerged as driving concepts in the world of neuroscience: Neuroplasticity, Cognitive Reserve and Neurogenesis.
- Neuroplasticity - also known as brain plasticity, is an umbrella term that describes lasting change to the brain throughout an animal's life. It is the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease, and to adjust their activities in response to new situations, or to changes in their environment. Simply put, the brain adapts, and changes itself, based on input from the body, and from the environment.
- Cognitive Reserve - describes the mind's resistance to damage of the brain. In other words, it is the idea that mental exercise, social interaction, and brain-stimulating activities, like cognitive training, can build up “reserve”, thereby helping to stave off declining memory, thinking, and cognitive function. Think of it as your brain’s way of paving extra side routes, in case there is an accident on the main highway.
- Neurogenesis – is the process by which neurons are generated from neural stem cells and progenitor cells. We now know that neurogenesis can occur throughout one's life. Learning new things, proper diet, some forms of exercise, and a healthy lifestyle can all enhance neurogenesis.
Here's the cool part...
Your brain is constantly changing and adapting with everything you see, hear, feel, sense, think, say and do. You can help direct the way your brain changes!
The brain-body connection is paramount. Your brain is engaged in perpetual two-way feedback loops with all the systems and senses in your body. This means that the data collected from your body and sent to the brain, via our senses, actually changes your brain; likewise, the messages sent back from the brain change how your body responds.
What does this mean to you?
It means you can improve your brain, your body, and your emotional well-being by engaging in specific cognitive, physical, breathing, and mindful meditation exercises. Furthermore, training the brain and body together produces even greater benefits.
The articles and studies below are just a sampling of the latest research which is transforming the world of neuroscience and human performance enhancement, and which is foundational to the POWER BRAINing™ methodology.
Dual tasking / Simultaneous Cognitive and Physical Training:
Effects of simultaneous aerobic and cognitive training on executive functions, cardiovascular fitness and functional abilities in older adults with mild cognitive impairment
- Programs in isolation or simultaneous are benefits for executive functions in MCI.
- Simultaneous program enhances a larger number of significant improvements in functional walking tests.
- One explication could be the production of a sur-additive effects generated by each program.
Novel Mat Exergaming to Improve the Physical Performance, Cognitive Function, and Dual-Task Walking and Decrease the Fall Risk of Community-Dwelling Older Adults
The current study aimed to investigate the effects of EMAT training, a novel cognitive–physical training program, on the physical performance, cognitive function, DTW, and fall risk of community-dwelling older adults. The results indicated that this novel EMAT training showed benefits for community-dwelling older adults in terms of physical performance (including functional fitness and FTT performance), DTW, and fall risk. In particular, superiority was seen in lower-body strength and flexibility, aerobic endurance, dynamic balance and agility, and fall risk (FRQ).
Benefits of Simultaneous Cognitive Physical Training
"This whitepaper examines the synergistic effects of engaging in physical and cognitive exercises simultaneously and dives into the proposed mechanisms by which these concurrent behaviors help to shape the body and sharpen the mind. Preliminary research suggests that engaging in these two types of exercise simultaneously may be more beneficial than merely the sum of their separate gains and that their combined effects can have a profound impact on both ameliorating and preventing cognitive decline in older individuals."
Effects of simultaneously performed cognitive and physical training in older adults
"While many studies confirm the positive effect of cognitive and physical training on cognitive performance of older adults, only little is known about the effects of simultaneously performed cognitive and physical training. In the current study, older adults simultaneously performed a verbal working memory and a cardiovascular training to improve cognitive and motor-cognitive dual task performance. Twenty training sessions of 30 minutes each were conducted over a period of ten weeks, with a test session before, in the middle, and after the training. Training gains were tested in measures of selective attention, paired-associates learning, executive control, reasoning, memory span, information processing speed, and motor-cognitive dual task performance in the form of walking and simultaneously performing a working memory task."
"In conclusion, simultaneous cognitive and physical training was able to improve cognitive performance in the trained working memory task as well as in the executive control task, pared-associates task, and motor-cognitive dual task, whereas the single cognitive training only increased performance in the trained working memory task and executive control task. Therefore, the present results clearly demonstrate the potential of integrating cognitive and physical training programs to improve cognition and adaptation to situations requiring the recruitment of both cognitive and physical resources."
Does multicomponent physical exercise with simultaneous cognitive training boost cognitive performance in older adults? A 6-month randomized controlled trial with a 1-year follow-up
"Particular executive functions benefit from simultaneous cognitive–physical training compared to exclusively physical multicomponent training. Cognitive–physical training programs may counteract widespread cognitive impairments in the elderly."
The Aerobic and Cognitive Exercise Study (ACES) for Community-Dwelling Older Adults With or At-Risk for Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI): Neuropsychological, Neurobiological and Neuroimaging Outcomes of a Randomized Clinical Trial
“These findings of significant effects with both types of exergaming: exer-tour (low mental challenge) and exer-score (high mental challenge) on executive function and memory, mirrors one of the few similar studies, by Eggenberger et al. (2015), who reported similar trends when comparing an interactive dance exergame, with dual-task walking (non-interactive), and physical exercise alone.”
Simultaneous Aerobic Exercise and Memory Training Program in Older Adults with Subjective Memory Impairments
These findings indicate that a 4-week simultaneous memory training and aerobic exercise program is sufficient to improve memory, attention, and reasoning abilities in older adults.
Dual Task Balance Training:
The Effects of Highly Challenging Balance Training in Elderly with Parkinson’s Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial
“A total of 91 participants completed the study. After the intervention, the between group comparison showed significantly improved balance and gait performance in the training group. Moreover, although no significant between group difference was observed regarding gait performance during dual-tasking; the participants in the training group improved their performance of the cognitive task while walking, as compared with the control group. Regarding physical activity levels and activities of daily living, in comparison to the control group, favorable results were found for the training group.”
Effects of dual task balance training on dual task performance in elderly people: a randomized controlled trial
“Subjects in the experimental group were given strength and balance training while performing cognitive tasks simultaneously. Subjects in the control group were given strength and balance training only.”
“There were no significant differences in Functional Reach Test, Timed Up and Go Test and sway length at baseline and after training between the two groups. However, the rate of Stroop task (P < 0.05) was significantly higher after training in the experimental group than in the control group.”
“These results suggest that dual task balance training in elderly people improves their dual task performance during standing postural control.”
“6 Steps to Better Balance”, Brain & Life Magazine, The Healthy Brain, June/July 2016
This article references multiple studies supporting dual task training. A few segments from the article state:
“As it happens, the best activities for improving balance involve dual tasking. Exercises such as tennis or dancing that involve unpredictable movements and fast thinking keep the body engaged and can build brain plasticity, says Dr. Hallett. In fact, a 2015 study of 15 athletes published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology reported that athletes who have to think to perform, such as figure skaters, gymnasts, and dancers, showed dramatically improved brain plasticity compared to runners and cross-country skiers who use muscles repetitiously. The reason? Once the brain learns a repetitive movement, it goes on autopilot, performing without even thinking about it.”
“Other studies suggest another activity that involves dual tasking—tai chi—is especially effective for improving balance. In a 2012 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that six months of twice-weekly tai chi improved balance and reduced the likelihood of falling among people with Parkinson's disease.”
“In a 2016 study published in the Journals of Gerontology, researchers discovered that seniors who participated in cognitive training—computer-based programs that use games to test attention, memory, and visual and auditory processing—demonstrated significant improvements in balance, gait speed, and the ability to walk while distracted over the 10-week study period. "Any form of physical activity that requires integrating cognitive, visual, vestibular, motor, or sensory systems can enhance well-being. It can also help with people's perception of balance and make them less fearful of balance challenges," says Dr. Cha.”
Multi-modal Physical Training (including Strength, Stretch, Balance, & Aerobic):
Balance training improves memory and spatial cognition in healthy adults
The findings suggest that systematic balance training is capable of enhancing some cognitive functions, such as memory and spatial cognition. Crucially, an increase in cardiorespiratory fitness does not seem to be necessary for eliciting beneficial effects of physical exercise on cognitive functions. This pattern implies multiple mechanisms for physical activity affecting cognitive functions.
The 4 most important types of exercise, Harvard Health Publishing - Harvard Medical School; Updated: August 20, 2019, Published: January 2017
“Exercise is key to good health. But we tend to limit ourselves to one or two types of activity. "People do what they enjoy, or what feels the most effective, so some aspects of exercise and fitness are ignored," says Rachel Wilson, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. In reality, we should all be doing aerobics, stretching, strengthening, and balance exercises.”
Leg exercise is critical to brain and nervous system health, 2018, Frontiers
“New research shows that using the legs, particularly in weight-bearing exercise, sends signals to the brain that are vital for the production of healthy neural cells. The groundbreaking study fundamentally alters brain and nervous system medicine -- giving doctors new clues as to why patients with motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal muscular atrophy and other neurological diseases often rapidly decline when their movement becomes limited.”
Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory, PNAS February 15, 2011
“Here we show, in a randomized controlled trial with 120 older adults, that aerobic exercise training increases the size of the anterior hippocampus, leading to improvements in spatial memory. Exercise training increased hippocampal volume by 2%, effectively reversing age-related loss in volume by 1 to 2 y.”
11 Benefits of Strength Training That Have Nothing to Do With Muscle Size
Heart Rate Variability (Breathing Training):
Breathe. Exhale. Repeat: The Benefits of Controlled Breathing
https://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/11/09/well/mind/breathe-exhale-repeat-the-benefits-of-controlled-breathing.html?_r=1&referer=, 2016, Leslie Alderman, NY Times,
“Controlled breathing, like what you just practiced, has been shown to reduce stress, increase alertness and boost your immune system”
Heart rate variability biofeedback: how and why does it work?
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4104929/ , 2014, Frontiers of Psychology
“In this article, we review these and other possible mechanisms that might explain the positive effects of HRVB.”
Relaxation Techniques: Breathing Helps Quell Errant Stress Response
http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response, Harvard Medical School, 2015,
“Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange”, “We can’t avoid all sources of stress in our lives, nor would we want to. But we can develop healthier ways of responding to them”
Memory training and benefits for quality of life in the elderly: A Case Study http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1980-57642016000200152, 2016, Scielo.
"The results suggest that the use of Neurotracker for training cognitive processes is valid for cognitive rehabilitation programs to promote improvements in quality of life in the elderly."
Visual Training, Study: Healthy Older Observers Show Equivalent Perceptual-Cognitive Training Benefits to Young Adults for Multiple Object Tracking
"Data support the notion that learning in healthy older persons is maintained for processing complex dynamic scenes."
The Effectiveness of Interactive Metronome® as a Restorative Modality to Improve Cognition and Motor Performance in Healthy Older Adults in Eastern North Carolina,
https://media.wix.com/ugd/bc4947_1eeea52868c44cada158fb39c0e21870.pdf, 2017, Journal of Neurology and Neuroscience.
"Researchers concluded the participants’ improved scores on cognitive and fine motor dexterity measures might indicate IM could be beneficial in enhancing or maintaining individuals for this population"
Effects of interactive metronome training on postural stability and upper extremity function in Parkinson’s disease: a case study, 2017, Journal of Physical Therapy Science
“After training, the patient’s static and dynamic balance, functional activity, and performance time of the upper extremity improved. Interactive metronome therapy improved the manual dexterity of both hands. Interactive metronome therapy also improved the limit of stability of the Parkinson’s disease. [Conclusion] Though a case study, the results of this study suggest that IM therapy is effective at restoring the postural stability and upper extremity function of patients with Parkinson’s disease.”
Academic and Behavioral Improvements in 2nd- Through 8th-Grade Students in the Hardy Brain Camp Program,
"Remarkable improvements were made in academic performance, attitude, ability to process information, and ability to deal with surrounding environment."
Your ability to grab, hold, twist, and squeeze is essential for many everyday functions. Harvard Health Publishing, Published November 2016
“The findings showed that a 5-kilogram (kg) decline in grip strength was associated with a 17% increased risk of dying from a heart attack, and a 7% and 9% chance of having a heart attack or stroke, respectively, over a four-year period.”
Effect of passive finger exercises on grip strength and the ability to perform activities of daily living for older people with dementia: a 12-week randomized controlled trial, 2018
“Although there was no effect on grip strength, passive finger exercises led to significant improvements in urinary control, defecation function, and overall ADL in comparison with the control group.”
Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain, 2015, Harvard Business Review, Christina Congleton, Britta K Holzel, Sara W. Lazar
“Neuroscientists have also shown that practicing mindfulness affects brain areas related to perception, body awareness, pain tolerance, emotion regulation, introspection, complex thinking, and sense of self.”
Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World, book, Dr. Danny Penman
“Thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers prove that mindfulness enhances mental and physical wellbeing and reduces chronic pain”