You Created Some Great Holiday Memories. Now Hang Onto Them.

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With Thanksgiving and Christmas behind us, you probably had the chance to hang out with friends and family, creating warm, festive memories.

Now all you have to do is remember them.

As we age, memory can weaken. The good news is that memory skills are not “fixed.” You can improve and strengthen your ability to remember important events and details in your life. This is because of something called neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain’s life-long ability to reorganize, strengthen, and even create brand new connections that allow us to store and retrieve information, including memories!

Here are three ways to protect and even improve your ability to remember the important events and details in your life:

1. Practice the 8-second rule. Sometimes we can’t remember something because we never focused on it long enough to get the information into our memory banks to begin with. By practicing and strengthening your attention skills, your brain will have what it needs to retrieve the information later. A good rule of thumb is to focus for a minimum of eight seconds on whatever it is you want to remember later.

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Seeing Red? How This Favorite Holiday Color Impacts Your Brain

During the holidays, the color red is everywhere we look, from bulbs and bows to Santa’s trademark threads.

What impact does this favorite holiday hue have on your brain?

For starters, studies show that the color red increases appetite (no wonder holiday goodies are so hard to resist!). Also, when people are exposed to the color red, tests show they become more cautious and attentive to detail, and memory skills improve as well.

In one study, more than 600 people were asked to perform various tasks, usually on a computer. When tasks (such as proofreading) required focus, people performed as much as 31 percent better when their computer screen had a red background.

In contrast, researchers say the color red can keep us from performing our best in situations where creativity and analytical thinking are required. For these tasks, people perform better after being exposed to the colors green and blue.

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Is Your Brain Making You Spend Too Much This Christmas?

Three Simple Tips to Avoid Impulse Spending and Stay within Your Holiday Budget

The holidays are here, which for most of us means spending time shopping in malls or online looking for gifts for loved ones (and even for ourselves!). It also means trying to keep from spending too much money.

Apparently whether we stay within our holiday shopping budget may not depend as much on willpower as it does on the circuitry of our own brains.

Brian Knutson of Standford University and colleagues mapped the brains of shoppers using a MRI. They discovered that, as people contemplated whether or not to make a purchase, one of two segments of their brains would “light up.” If the nucleus accumbens–part of the reward and pleasure center of the brain–lit up, the subject would invariably make the purchase. If the insula–the part of the brain that registers pain (such as the pain of something costing more than its perceived value)–lit up, the subject would invaribly say “Thanks, but no thanks.”

By watching which part of the brain became active, researchers could accurately predict whether or not the shopper would make the purchase.

The reason shopping feels so good may be related to the brain chemical dopamine. This “feel good” chemical is released anytime we are exposed to the exciting mix of new places, challenges, sights and sounds–all of which are plentiful at the mall.

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All I want for Christmas is a Healthier Brain

If a “healthier brain” is on your holiday wish list, you’re in luck. That’s because cranberries–a staple at most holiday feasts–are actually good for your brain.

Studies show that cranberries protect brain cells from free-radical damage that impairs cognitive and motor functions. According to an article in Psychology Today by Hara Estroff Marano, “Aging animals given cranberries showed actual improvements in normal age-related declines in working memory, reference memory, balance and coordination.” In other words, says, Marano, “They were able to keep on learning.”

In fact, when it comes to preserving brain function, cranberries are so powerful they can even reduce impairment following a stroke! In a 2003 study, researchers discovered that by exposing neurons to a concentration of cranberry extract, there was a 50 percent reduction in brain cell death. Catherine Neto, a lead investigator in the study says, “Cranberries have the potential to protect against brain cell damage that occurs during a stroke,” adding, “It may not stop a stroke from occurring, but it may reduce the severity.”

This is good news for many Americans, since as a nation we consume more than five millions gallons of jellied cranberry sauce every holiday season. Even John Lennon must have liked cranberries since he confirmed in a 1980 interview that, at the end of the song Strawberry Fields Forever, he can be heard repeating the words “cranberry sauce.”

What does this mean for you and your family this holiday season?

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Do You Travel A lot? Take a Couple of Naps and Call LearningRx in the Morning

Chronic jet lag shrinks your brain, making learning and remembering more difficult for up to a month after you return home!

So says a team of psychologists from the University of California, Berkeley. The researchers based their findings on a four week study of jet-lagged hamsters. The psychologists weren’t surprised to discover that the hamsters had trouble learning and remembering simple tasks while jet lagged. What surprised the scientists, however, was that the memory and learning deficit lasted an entire month after the critters had been returned to their regular programming.

The answer, they say, seems to lie in the hippocampus, a part of the brain used for processing memory. Even though the brain is constantly creating new neurons, after a month of jet-lag, the hamsters had only half the number of new neurons in the hippocampus region as non-jet-lagged rodents in the study’s control group.

Another study, conducted by Dr. Cho Kwangwook of the University of Bristol Medical School, revealed similar findings. Based on a study of flight attendants, Dr. Kwangwook concluded that chronic jet lag shrinks the frontal portion of the brain, resulting in temporary loss of memory and cognitive skills.

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