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Multitasking is the great buzz word in business today, but as developmental molecular biologist Medina tells readers in a chapter on attention, the brain can really only focus on one thing at a time. This alone is the best argument for not talking on your cellphone while driving. Medina (The Genetic Inferno) presents readers with a basket containing an even dozen good principles on how the brain works and how we can use them to our benefit at home and work. The author says our visual sense trumps all other senses, so pump up those PowerPoint presentations with graphics. The author says that we don't sleep to give our brain a rest-studies show our neurons firing furiously away while the rest of the body is catching a few z's. While our brain indeed loses cells as we age, it compensates so that we continue to be able to learn well into our golden years. Many of these findings and minutiae will be familiar to science buffs, but the author employs an appealing style, with suggestions on how to apply his principles, which should engage all readers. DVD not seen by PW.(Mar.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
IF THE CAMERAS weren't rolling and the media abuzz with live reports, it is possible nobody would have believed the following story:
A man had been handcuffed, shackled and thrown into California's Long Beach Harbor, where he was quickly fastened to a floating cable. The cable had been attached at the other end to 70 boats, bobbing up and down in the harbor, each carrying a single person. Battling strong winds and currents, the man then swam, towing all 70 boats (and passengers) behind him, traveling 1.5 miles to Queen's Way Bridge. The man, Jack La Lanne, was celebrating his birthday. He had just turned 70 years old.
Jack La Lanne, born in 1914, has been called the godfather of the American fitness movement. He starred in one of the longest-running exercise programs produced for commercial television. A prolific inventor, La Lanne designed the first legextension machines, the first cable-fastened pulleys, and the first weight selectors, all now standard issue in the modern gym. He is even credited with inventing an exercise that supposedly bears his name, the Jumping Jack. La Lanne is now in his mid-90s, and even these feats are probably not the most interesting aspect of this famed bodybuilder's story. If you ever have the chance to hear him in an interview, your biggest impression will be not the strength of his muscles but the strength of his mind. La Lanne is mentally alert, almost beyond reason. His sense of humor is both lightening fast and improvisatory. "I tell people I can't afford to die. It will wreck my image!" he once exclaimed to Larry King. He regularly rails at the camera: "Why am I so strong? Do you know how many calories are in butter and cheese and ice cream? Would you get your dog up in the morning for a cup of coffee and a doughnut?" He claims he hasn't had dessert since 1929. He is hyper-energized, opinionated, possessed with the intellectual vigor of an athlete in his 20s.
So it's hard not to ask: "Is there a relationship between exercise and mental alertness?" The answer, it turns out, is yes.
survival of the fittest
Though a great deal of our evolutionary history remains shrouded in controversy, the one fact that every paleoanthropologist on the planet accepts can be summarized in two words:
A lot. When our bountiful rainforests began to shrink, collapsing the local food supply, we were forced to wander around an increasingly dry landscape looking for more trees we could scamper up to dine. As the climate got more arid, these wet botanical vending machines disappeared altogether. Instead of moving up and down complex arboreal environments in three dimensions, which required a lot of dexterity, we began walking back and forth across arid savannahs in two dimensions, which required a lot of stamina.
"About 10 to 20 kilometers a day with men," says famed anthropologist Richard Wrangham, "and about half that for women." That's the amount of ground scientists estimate we covered on a daily basis back then-up to 12 miles a day. That means our fancy brains developed not while we were lounging around but while we were working out.
The first real marathon runner of our species was a vicious predator known as Homo erectus. As soon as the Homo erectus family evolved, about 2 million years ago, he started moving out of town. Our direct ancestors, Homo sapiens, rapidly did the same thing, starting in Africa 100,000 years ago and reaching Argentina by 12,000 years ago. Some researchers suggest that we were extending our ranges by an unheard-of 25 miles per year.
This is an impressive feat, considering the nature of the world our ancestors inhabited. They were crossing rivers and deserts, jungles and mountain ranges, all without the aid of maps and mostly without tools. They eventually made ocean-going boats without the benefit of wheels or metallurgy, and then traveling up and down the Pacific with only the crudest navigational skills. Our ancestors constantly were encountering new food sources, new predators, new physical dangers. Along the road they routinely suffered injuries, experienced strange illnesses, and delivered and nurtured children, all without the benefit of textbooks or modern medicine.
Given our relative wimpiness in the animal kingdom (we don't even have enough body hair to survive a mildly chilly night), what these data tell us is that we grew up in top physical shape, or we didn't grow up at all. And they also tell us the human brain became the most powerful in the world under conditions where motion was a constant presence.
If our unique cognitive skills were forged in the furnace of physical activity, is it possible that physical activity still influences our cognitive skills? Are the cognitive abilities of someone in good physical condition different from those of someone in poor physical condition? And what if someone in poor physical condition were whipped into shape? Those are scientifically testable questions. The answers are directly related to why Jack La Lanne can still crack jokes about eating dessert. In his nineties.
will you age like jim or like frank?
We discovered the beneficial effects of exercise on the brain by looking at aging populations. This was brought home to me by an anonymous man named Jim and a famous man named Frank. I met them both while I was watching television. A documentary on American nursing homes showed people in wheelchairs, many in their mid- to late 80s, lining the halls of a dimly lit facility, just sitting around, seemingly waiting to die. One was named Jim. His eyes seemed vacant, lonely, friendless. He could cry at the drop of a hat but otherwise spent the last years of his life mostly staring off into space. I switched channels. I stumbled upon a very young-looking Mike Wallace. The journalist was busy interviewing architect Frank Lloyd Wright, at the time in his late 80s. I was about to hear a most riveting interview.
"When I walk into St. Patrick's Cathedral ... here in New York City, I am enveloped in a feeling of reverence," said Wallace, tapping his cigarette. The old man eyed Wallace. "Sure it isn't an inferiority complex?"
"Just because the building is big and I'm small, you mean?"
"I think not."
"I hope not."
"You feel nothing when you go into St. Patrick's?"
"Regret," Wright said without a moment's pause, "because it isn't the thing that really represents the spirit of independence and the sovereignty of the individual which I feel should be represented in our edifices devoted to culture."
I was dumbfounded by the dexterity of Wright's response. In four sentences, one could detect the clarity of his mind, his unshakable vision, his willingness to think out of the box. The rest of his interview was just as compelling, as was the rest of Wright's life. He completed the designs for the Guggenheim Museum, his last work, in 1957, when he was 90 years old.
But I also was dumbfounded by something else. As I contemplated Wright's answers, I remembered Jim from the nursing home. He was the same age as Wright. In fact, most of the residents were. I suddenly was beholding two types of aging. Jim and Frank lived in roughly the same period of time. But one mind had almost completely withered, while the other remained as incandescent as a light bulb. What was the difference in the aging process between men like Jim and the famous architect? This question has bugged the research community for a long time. Investigators have known for years that some people age with energy and pizazz, living productive lives well into their 80s and 90s. Others appear to become battered and broken by the process, and often they don't survive their 70s. Attempts to explain these differences led to many important discoveries, which I have grouped as answers to six questions.
1) Is there one factor that predicts how well you will age?
It was never an easy question for researchers to answer. They found many variables, from nature to nurture, that contributed to someone's ability to age gracefully. That's why the scientific community met with both applause and suspicion a group of researchers who uncovered a powerful environmental influence. In a result that probably produced a smile on Jack La Lanne's face, one of the greatest predictors of successful aging was the presence or absence of a sedentary lifestyle. Put simply, if you are a couch potato, you are more likely to age like Jim, if you make it to your 80s at all. If you have an active lifestyle, you are more likely to age like Frank Lloyd Wright and much more likely to make it to your 90s.
The chief reason for the difference seemed to be that exercise improved cardiovascular fitness, which in turn reduced the risk for diseases such as heart attacks and stroke. But researchers wondered why the people who were aging "successfully" also seemed to be more mentally alert. This led to the obvious second question:
2) Were they?
Just about every mental test possible was tried. No matter how it was measured, the answer was consistently yes: A lifetime of exercise can result in a sometimes astonishing elevation in cognitive performance, compared with those who are sedentary. Exercisers outperform couch potatoes in tests that measure long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving, even so-called fluidintelligence tasks. These tasks test the ability to reason quickly and think abstractly, improvising off previously learned material in order to solve a new problem. Essentially, exercise improves a whole host of abilities prized in the classroom and at work.
Not every weapon in the cognitive arsenal is improved by exercise. Short-term memory skills, for example, and certain types of reaction times appear to be unrelated to physical activity. And, while nearly everybody shows some improvement, the degree of benefit varies quite a bit among individuals. Most important, these data, strong as they were, showed only an association, not a cause. To show the direct link, a more intrusive set of experiments had to be done. Researchers had to ask:
3) Can you turn Jim into Frank?
The experiments were reminiscent of a makeover show. Researchers found a group of couch potatoes, measured their brain power, exercised them for a period of time, and re-examined their brain power. They consistently found that when couch potatoes are enrolled in an aerobic exercise program, all kinds of mental abilities begin to come back online. Positive results were observed after as little as four months of activity. It was the same story with school-age children. In one recent study, children jogged for 30 minutes two or three times a week. After 12 weeks, their cognitive performance had improved significantly compared with pre-jogging levels. When the exercise program was withdrawn, the scores plummeted back to their pre-experiment levels. Scientists had found a direct link. Within limits, it does appear that exercise can turn Jim into Frank, or at least turn Jim into a sharper version of himself.
As the effects of exercise on cognition became increasingly obvious, scientists began fine-tuning their questions. One of the biggest-certainly one dearest to the couch-potato cohort-was: What type of exercise must you do, and how much of it must be done to get the benefit? I have both good news and bad news.
4) What's the bad news?
Astonishingly, after years of investigation in aging populations, the answer to the question of how much is not much. If all you do is walk several times a week, your brain will benefit. Even couch potatoes who fidget show increased benefit over those who do not fidget. The body seems to be clamoring to get back to its hyperactive Serengeti roots. Any nod toward this history, be it ever so small, is met with a cognitive war whoop. In the laboratory, the gold standard appears to be aerobic exercise, 30 minutes at a clip, two or three times a week. Add a strengthening regimen and you get even more cognitive benefit.
Of course, individual results vary, and no one should embark on a rigorous program without consulting a physician. Too much exercise and exhaustion can hurt cognition. The data merely point to the fact that one should embark. Exercise, as millions of years traipsing around the backwoods tell us, is good for the brain. Just how good took everyone by surprise, as they answered the next question.
5) Can exercise treat brain disorders?
Given the robust effect of exercise on typical cognitive performance, researchers wanted to know if it could be used to treat atypical performance. What about diseases such as age-related dementia and its more thoroughly investigated cousin, Alzheimer's disease? What about affective disorders such as depression? Researchers looked at both prevention and intervention. With experiments reproduced all over the world, enrolling thousands of people, often studied for decades, the results are clear. Your lifetime risk for general dementia is literally cut in half if you participate in leisure-time physical activity. Aerobic exercise seems to be the key. With Alzheimer's, the effect is even greater: Such exercise lowers your odds of getting the disease by more than 60 percent.
How much exercise? Once again, a little goes a long way. The researchers showed you have to participate in some form of exercise just twice a week to get the benefit. Bump it up to a 20-minute walk each day, and you can cut your risk of having a stroke-one of the leading causes of mental disability in the elderly-by 57 percent.
The man most responsible for stimulating this line of inquiry did not start his career wanting to be a scientist. He wanted to be an athletics coach. His name is Dr. Steven Blair, and he looks uncannily like Jason Alexander, the actor who portrayed George Costanza on the old TV sitcom Seinfeld. Blair's coach in high school, Gene Bissell, once forfeited a football game after discovering that an official had missed a call. Even though the league office balked, Bissell insisted that his team be declared the loser, and the young Steven never forgot the incident. Blair writes that this devotion to truth inspired his undying admiration for rigorous, no-nonsense, statistical analysis of the epidemiological work in which he eventually embarked. His seminal paper on fitness and mortality stands as a landmark example of how to do work with integrity in this field. The rigor of his findings inspired other investigators. What about using exercise not only as prevention, they asked, but as intervention, to treat mental disorders such as depression and anxiety?
That turned out to be a good line of questioning. A growing body of work now suggests that physical activity can powerfully affect the course of both diseases. We think it's because exercise regulates the release of the three neurotransmitters most commonly associated with the maintenance of mental health: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Although exercise cannot substitute for psychiatric treatment, the role of exercise on mood is so pronounced that many psychiatrists have begun adding a regimen of physical activity to the normal course of therapy. But in one experiment with depressed individuals, rigorous exercise was actually substituted for antidepressant medication. Even when compared against medicated controls, the treatment outcomes were astonishingly successful. For both depression and anxiety, exercise is beneficial immediately and over the long term. It is equally effective for men and women, and the longer the program is deployed, the greater the effect becomes. It is especially helpful for severe cases and for older people.
Most of the data we have been discussing concern elderly populations. Which leads to the question:
6) Are the cognitive blessings of exercise only for the elderly?
As you ratchet down the age chart, the effects of exercise on cognition become less clear. The biggest reason for this is that so few studies have been done. Only recently has the grumpy scientific eye begun to cast its gaze on younger populations. One of the best efforts enrolled more than 10,000 British civil servants between the ages of 35 and 55, examining exercise habits and grading them as low, medium, or high. Those with low levels of physical activity were more likely to have poor cognitive performance. Fluid intelligence, the type that requires improvisatory problem-solving skills, was particularly hurt by a sedentary lifestyle. Studies done in other countries have confirmed the finding.
Excerpted from Brain Rules by John Medina Copyright © 2008 by John Medina. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Rule #1 Exercise boosts brain power.
Our brains love motion
The incredible test-score booster
Will you age like Jim or like Frank?
How oxygen builds roads for the brain
Rule #2 The human brain evolved, too.
What's uniquely human about us
A brilliant survival strategy
Meet your brain
How we conquered the world
Rule #3 Every brain is wired differently.
Neurons slide, slither, and split
Experience makes the difference
Furious brain development not once, but twice
The Jennifer Aniston neuron
Rule #4 We don't pay attention to boring things.
Why there is no such thing as multitasking
We pay great attention to threats, sex, and pattern matching
The brain needs a break!
short-term memory 95
Rule #5 Repeat to remember.
Memories are volatile
How details become splattered across the insides of our brains
How the brain pieces them back together again
Where memories go
long-term memory 121
Rule #6 Remember to repeat.
If you don't repeat this within 30 seconds, you'll forget it
Spaced repetition cycles are key to remembering
When floating in water could help your memory
Rule #7 Sleep well, think well.
The brain doesn't sleep to rest
Two armies at war in your head
How to improve your performance 34 percent in 26 minutes
Which bird are you?
Sleep on it!
Rule #8 Stressed brains don't learn the same way.
Stress is good, stress is bad
A villain and a hero in the toxic-stress battle
Why the home matters to the workplace
Marriage intervention for happy couples
sensory integration 197
Rule #9 Stimulate more of thesenses.
Lessons from a nightclub
How and why all of our senses work together
Multisensory learning means better remembering
What's that smell?
Rule #10 Vision trumps all other senses.
Playing tricks on wine tasters
You see what your brain wants to see, and it likes to make stuff up
Throw out your PowerPoint
Rule #11 Male and female brains are different.
The difference between little girl best friends and little boy best friends
Men favor gist when stressed; women favor details
A forgetting drug
Rule #12 We are powerful and natural explorers.
Babies are great scientists
Exploration is aggressive
Monkey see, monkey do
Curiosity is everything
Posted March 7, 2009
I found this book extremely informative and easy to read; considering the complexity of the material. I am in NO way a scientist or have any understanding of neuroscience. In fact, I beat up brain surgeons in my spare time. The author breaks the information down in a way that any regular "Joe Plumber" can understand! If you are a hardcore scientist/doctor/quantum physicist, then take a pass because you might not like how it's written. But, for the rest of us that want some kind of understanding how the big, slimy thing in our head works - definitely pick up this book!
15 out of 17 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 1, 2011
I actually enjoyed this book. Even though the text was packed full medical terminology (as it should be considering the subject matter), Medina managed to make it easy to read and even entertaining for those us who did not particularly enjoy biology. I'm a true believer that if you want to make something more efficient, first you need to know how "it" works. I am a Civil Engineer and spend most of my waking hours in an office environment (with some reprieves to visit new jobsites or construction sites and occasionally I even go home to my loving and apparently very understanding husband). So I was looking for something to better manage my time at work, if not become more efficient and/or productive during normal work hours so that there would not be such an overlap between work and play. Don't get me wrong I usually enjoy my job, the engineering is challenging if not out-right fun, but working in the private sector there is always that client that wants something done yesterday, when in reality it will take 2-3 weeks to develop. Although this book is definitely not the cure-all; there are many aspects that I plan on working into my lifestyle. I'm sure other professionals will agree, we are always looking to better ourselves in the attempt to create more innovative designs that combine the most recent discoveries with the time-honored methodology already in existence. And we wish to do all this in a timely/economic manner. Maybe a few lifestyle changes would make all the difference both in our careers and at home; at least I think it's worth a try. In short, after all my ramblings, I highly recommend this book. Even if you don't take it to heart, you may find it truly enlightening. Thank you Madina.
8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 30, 2011
I read 'for baby' too and they we both incredible. I love the technical parts mixed with the simple analogies and it makes it a great read for anyone.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 10, 2009
This smart and easy to read book was a delight. It engaged me and filled in a lot of gaps and gave a ton of useful information that I will use to improve the development of my brain and those that matter most to me.
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 16, 2010
This was a fascinating book! I bought several copies of the book (after reading it myself) to give to others. Although the book is scientifically based(it is about the brain afterall), it is filled with little stories and anecedotes that keep the reader glued to the quest for knowledge. Brain Rules was well-written.
A true test of the effectiveness of a knowledge based book is whether or not it stirs a desire to learn more. This book sent me on a quest to learn more about the brain, but non of the other authors have captured my attention as well as Dr. Medina.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 31, 2009
I am certainly not qualified to judge its accuracy, but the general explanations were extremely interesting. Good for parents and others who wish to better understand people and how they're "wired"
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 10, 2013
Posted July 26, 2011
The "facts" (such as they are) don't conclude the rules. The rules are written to accomadate the facts, but could easily be argued to the contrary.
1 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 14, 2011
I thought this book would be more geared towards the way to utilize the brain to your benefit. It goes deeply into the actual function OF the brain. Not what I was expecting.
1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 5, 2008
Interestingly written and moves along smoothly. Full of facts and solid information but won't put you to sleep. The reader intuitively knows that the things he says are true (like how getting good sleep is important), but he articulates clearly and reinforces these truths.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 10, 2013
My father lent this book to me (a physical book,) saying it was awesome; I didn't believe him. A month later, it was done and I loved it! The author included enough info to keep it educational, used examples that showed me just how powerful the brain is, and had enough humor so that it wasn't dry. I recommend this for 13+, and to read it 1 or 2 chapters at a time. Too much could give you a bit of a headache. Hope you like it!!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 26, 2013
Posted March 2, 2013
This book is super well written, and the author makes it extremely easy to understand which is amazing since this topic is so complex. I'm only 15 and I understood everything he was saying. Needless to say, I DEFINITELY recommend this book! I totally loved it!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 17, 2012
I love having actual books in my house to read - especially books like these. This is a very very insightful book that you have to read a couple times before things start to really sink in, and you realize it's a keeper. My friend recommended it to me through myList, and I had to check it out.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 21, 2011
Posted September 7, 2011
Posted July 13, 2011
Posted July 9, 2011
This was the book that taught me to use the bookmark and notes feature of my new Nook(B&W). The content and examples were well done and useful. I started to fatigue toward the end of the book( after several reading sessions over several days), perhaps reading faster than I should have. If anything, the formula Dr. Medina uses to make his points just became familiar. I'd do it again and the same way if I were to start ereading all over. Recommended.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 21, 2010
I bought this book to help me improve my memory especially in regards to an organic chemistry class that I am taking. It wasn't helpful in that regard unless you have a lot of time to study a small amount of information. Unfortunately, I have a limited amount of study time and a lot of information to comment to memory. However, the book itself is very interesting and a fun read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 8, 2009
Never too young or too old to change how we learn, to change how we keep our brain healthy, and to change the way we teach and the way we do business! Start with ourselves and continue with our children's education system!
0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.