Category: Brain Research

National Youth Sports Week

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An estimated 45 million kids in the U.S. participate in youth sports every year, and they’re starting younger than ever. Gymnastics classes are available for kids still in diapers and the SoccerTots® franchise caters to kids as young as 18 months.

National Youth Sports Week this July 20 – 24 is designed to draw attention to the rewards of participation for kids of all ages. And now a new study suggests another benefit: sports may actually make kids think faster. The study in the Journal of American College of Sports found that athletes appeared to have a faster processing speed than non-athletes, likely due to regularly making split-second evaluations and decisions.

A New York Times piece on the study notes that it’s possible that the athletes always had advanced processing abilities and that’s what made them better athletes, rather than the athletics turning them into faster thinkers. Either way, the study shows that better athletes have faster processing speed.

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Why Dumbbells Make You Smarter

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Turns out there’s a link between strength training and brain fitness. So much so that a recent study published in the Archives of Neurology discovered that people with more muscle strength cut their chances of developing Alzheimer’s in half! The study was conducted on a group of people with an average age of 80 years. Among this group, only one out of ten people with stronger muscles developed Alzheimer’s, compared to two out of ten people with weaker muscles.

Another study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, has shown that strength training has even more impact on brain fitness than balance and toning exercises.  The study followed 155 women ages 65 to 75. Half the women were asked to work out with dumbbells and weight machines a couple times a week for a year. The other half were asked to spend that year doing balance and toning exercises. At the end of the study, the women who had worked out with the weights also improved their scores on cognitive tests, testing higher in the ability to make decisions, resolve conflicts and focus. The women who had done balance and toning exercises, however, actually showed a slight deterioration in cognitive skills.

Workaholics Run Greater Risk of Developing Dementia

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Workaholics work longer hours. That means their brains are active more hours of the day, right? That must mean they have sharper mental skills, right?

Wrong.

In fact, the opposite appears to be true. Research has linked longer work hours with weaker mental skills. In fact, one study of 2,214 middle-aged civil servants concluded that employees working more than 55 hours a week had poorer mental skills than their 40-hour-work-week counterparts.

Brain imaging specialist Dr. Daniel Amen reminds us to think of the brain as a computer that needs to hibernate, shut down and re-boot on a regular basis to prevent brain fatigue. Quoting the conclusions of a different study—this one tracking 7000 workers over more than a decade—Dr. Amen says that working 11 hours a day or more not only increases your risk of heart attack by 67 percent, it also increases your chances of developing dementia later in life.

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Do Clowns Have Bigger Brains?

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In a recent study, people who learned to juggle grew bigger brains.

And if you think we’re clowning around, we’re not.

German researchers took 24 non-jugglers and divided them into two groups. One group was asked to do nothing; the other group was asked to practice juggling for three months. The researchers took brain scans of both groups before and after the three month experiment. What they discovered was that the dozen people who had learned how to juggle had grown more brain!

The extra brain cells were in the areas of the brain responsible for visual processing and motor skills (which makes sense when you think about the hand-eye coordination necessary for juggling).

The researchers were scanning for brain volume, rather than brain activity. As a result, while they can see that the new jugglers grew more brain cells, they don’t know the purpose of the increase. At least not yet. They’re still looking into the neural connections and brain activity related to those new cells.

The other interesting development was that, when the new jugglers stopped practicing for three months, the bigger parts of their brains decreased in size. In other words, when it comes to your brain, you snooze, you lose. To get the most out of your brain, you gotta keep using it.

 So the next time you go to the circus and see a clown wearing a big hat, you’ll know why. With a bigger brain, he probably needs the extra space.