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					                    Fun….Focused…..Fed…..Fresh …..
              Brain Fitness Findings Fuel Cognitive Function
                          Dr. Linda Karges-Bone

       Brain fitness. Is it an oxymoron or a mantra? It depends on whether
one’s brain is functioning cognitively, creatively, and consistently. For some,
brain fitness is taken for granted, that is until something happens or until a
subtle, yet significant change in one’s behavior or creative energy demands
        It happened for me on a recent consulting trip from my warm, Southern
community to upstate New York. I had been pushing the physiological and
cognitive boundaries for weeks and at age 50….it began to tell on me. In the
span of one morning last week, I missed a plane connection, lost a brand new
copy of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, and got a speeding ticket from a very
nice, but unswayable NY state trooper…..all because I had taken my brain
fitness for granted. Without the four “F’s……fun, focus, feeding, and
freshness…..the systems began to falter, and I suffered the consequences.
       Perhaps the loss of the best-selling fiction book about symbols and
signs forced me to pay attention….that or the speeding citation. I had just
accepted this assignment to write about the current research on brain fitness,
so I used my own current dilemma to internalize the story. In reviewing the
research and anecdotal data from experts and colleagues, I propose four
findings that help to organize thinking about what keeps the brain fit, healthy,
happy, and functioning at optimum capacity as we age. Perhaps by reviewing
the “Four F’s of Fitness” and applying them to our lives, we can all improve our
stress levels, brain health, and even our driving records!

Defining the Four F’s
       Much of the current thinking about “brain fitness” centers on trendy,
technology-driven devices or computer-driven games. Indeed, these can be
helpful in exercising thinking and in engaging neural productivity.
       Additionally, more traditional brain fitness strategies such as playing
Tetris on a cell phone while waiting at the dentist; doing a daily crossword
puzzle or Sodoku; completing a jigsaw puzzle, or using one’s hands to paint,
draw, or play music all contribute to brain fitness and will be applied in context
in the “10 Brain Fitness “ suggested activities at the end of this story.
       However, this discussion examines the “schema” or background
knowledge that research suggests as the driving force behind strength,
stamina, and sustained brain fitness.

     Fun: The frequent infusion of novelty, new experiences, social
connectivity, hands-on activities, humor, and healthy levels of “white
space” in which to re-charge cognitive batteries.

      Focus: The strategic infusion of strategies such as checking
sources, using tools such as cell phone reminders, allowing adequate
time between tasks, making copies of essential documents, using
colored markers, stars, or stickers to prompt memory, and setting
prompts to cue tasks.

     Feeding: The conscious infusion of brain-friendly foods and
consistent hydration during times of high demand and stress to keep
neural-transmissions moving smoothly and blood sugar regular.

      Freshness: The consistent infusion of rest, including adequate
measures of deep cycle “restorative” sleep, daily physical activity
including Vitamin-D rich sunlight ( 15 minutes minimum), and quiet
meditation and reflection.

How Does Brain Fitness Work?

       Our three pound brains are capable of “32 millions years of neural
connections” in the pre-frontal cortex. Yet, even with this generous complexity,
the ingenious system can falter if it isn’t kept fit. There are four threats to brain
fitness, which, interestingly but not surprisingly, can be diffused by the “Four
F’s” Let’s consider the four threats to brain fitness by looking at a simple chart:

Threats to    Signs    Studies                 Serious         Treatment
Brain                                          Threats         with the 4 F’s
Too much   You         Routine can be          Depression,     Fun/Novelty
routine andforget      useful in moderation,   anxiety, loss
boredom    how to      but too much leads      of joy, mood
           laugh.      to stiffness in         swings
           You         thinking and loss of
           might       creativity.
           up” on
           You feel
Cognitive  You         Cortisol, the stress    Memory          Focus/Attention
Dissonance may         hormone, acts like      loss,           Strategies
           lose        “battery acid” on the   mistakes at
           things or   brain…contaminating     work or at
           begin to    thinking and            home
           lose        planning.
Poor                   Mood foods can          Diabetes,    Feeding with
Nutrition              boost serotonin         inflammation Brain and
                       levels and decrease     of arteries  Mood Foods
                       inflammation, both
                       integral to brain
Fatigue                The hippocampus         Loss of         Freshness:
and Stress             needs at least 6        muscle          Sleep and
                       hours of deep cycle     mass, injury    Reflection
                       sleep to process

*Note: To find out more about the research underpinning the Four F’s,
read Differentiated Pathways of the Brain by the author. Lorenz
Educational Press 2009.

Lifestyle and Brain Fitness

       Brain fitness, unlike certain kinds of physical fitness, does not require a
personal trainer, a Pilates reformer, a jogging track, a mountain bike, or a
swimming pool. It does, however demand patterns of behavior, habits, and
lifestyle accommodations. The Four F’s: Fun, Focus, Feeding, and Freshness
optimize brain fitness when they become part of one’s daily schedule, travel
plans, work and family dynamics, and even friendships. Let’s consider a few
situations in which brain fitness might be maximized or minimized by the
choices that one makes.

Scenario I: Carol wants to help out her daughter, who is a single mother, by
taking care of her school-age children every afternoon after school.. This
means that Carol must give up her Prayer-Walking group in the afternoons
and the nap that she had come to count on. She also starts eating more fast
food because she runs through the hamburger drive-in window while ferrying
the kids around to soccer and dance lessons. She gains 5 pounds and begins
snapping at the kids, losing small items, and locks her car keys in the car at
the soccer field. Diagnosis: Loss of fun, freshness, and feeding.

Solution: Carol and her daughter should develop a mutually beneficial
schedule. The kids might stay with Carol only on Tuesdays and Thursdays
when they have soccer practice and lessons, and go to an after-school
program that is paid for by a federal “No Child Left Behind” grant on the other
days. Carol might begin using the crock pot on these evenings, setting up a
healthy soup or stew that they can all enjoy at 6:00. This would enable Carol
to do her walking group a few afternoons each week or she could ask some of
the other mothers and grandmothers who wait at the soccer field to begin
walking together during practice time. Prescription: Compromise and

Scenario 2: Doug’s wife has recently passed away after a long illness, during
which he was the primary care-giver. He is feeling tired, forgetful, and listless.
Disinterested in food, Doug loses 5 pounds and begins having insomnia,
something new for him. Concerned by the changes that they see in their dad,
Doug’s children encourage him to retire and get some rest. Diagnosis: Lack
of focus, freshness, fun, and feeding.

Solution: Doug may want to explore working part-time. He needs to use his
brain in ways that are both familiar and novel. He might even want to work
part-time in a related field that would put him in new social contexts that allow
him to “give back” without becoming a care-giver again. Altruism is associated
with more healthy brains and social connections. Beginning a fitness routine
that will make him more tired at night and get him outside, such as adopting a
dog from a shelter might stimulate his appetite and expose him to sunshine,
an important tool in fighting depression. Prescription: Balance of work and
play. Stimulation with a mission.

Gender Influences Brain Fitness As Well

       Notice that the two scenarios featured some “gender specific” research
findings. That was deliberate. In Carol’s case, women want to “help” or nurture
and will often dismiss their own brain fitness needs in order to take the stress
load off of their loved ones or colleagues. This is a poor choice, especially as
one ages, since the stress that is sure to follow damages neural plasticity,
making one less able to process, plan, and produce. Both the helper and
those who need her will suffer. In order to safe-guard brain fitness, many
women need to set boundaries concerning their time, energy , and
       In Doug’s case, the male hormone testosterone comes into play,
making it important for him to remain competitive and engaged. I like to say
that “men like to hunt down an animal and kill it”. Doug needs a task and a
territory to protect. Therefore, the loss of his wife and the subsequent loss of

his job would be too much, and leave his brain in a static mode. He needs
adequate stimulation and opportunities to solve problems and to be needed.

How Can We Integrate the 4 F’s for Brain Fitness?

       Visual aids or graphic organizers are brain-friendly tools that enable
focus. When one adds colors or symbols to the view, novelty or fun figure into
the equation. So, let pull this together with some Strategies for Brain Fitness
that infuse the 4 F’s in a flexible fashion. Tip: Blow this up to a poster size for
display in an Activity Room or on a refrigerator and use scented markers to
add dates and notes.

                  Ten Strategies to Stimulate Brain Fitness

      Rent a foreign film on DVD and watch it with English sub-titles,
       building novelty and fun. Eat fresh frozen red grapes for an anti-
       oxidant brain feed.
      Invite some friends to walk through a local farmer’s market and
       buy local produce to make roasted vegetable sandwiches. The
       stroll, sights, and meal address freshness, feeding, and focus.
       Choose the darkest color vegetables and roast with garlic and
       olive oil. Pull your treasures in a red wagon for playful, child-like
      Volunteer to tutor at a local after-school program and introduce
       the kids to brain games such as crossword puzzles or soduku.
       Altruism keeps the brain fit with focus . If you can, bring small
       prizes such as peppermints, cinnamon, or dark chocolate pieces,
       all associated as mood foods.
      Pet therapy boosts mood and increases restful sleep. Walking a
       rescued pet can help to increase healthy appetite and induce
       restful sleep. Staying attuned to a pet’s needs keeps one sharp.

    Taking a pet to a dog park or walking trail where one can interact
    with others who share a love for animals is a plus as well. The
    payoff? Fun, Feeding, Focus, and Freshness for the brain.
   Create a brain-friendly palette in the home’s sleeping, eating, and
    entertaining areas. Place sunny yellow lemons in a blue dish.
    Arrange an inexpensive bunch of cut mums or sunflowers in a jar.
    Simmer cinnamon in a scent pot. The limbic system will filter
    these sensory experiences and register them as Fresh and Fun.
   Dip an ounce of good quality ( 60% or more) dark chocolate into a
    cup of coffee while playing a vocabulary game such as on the laptop. Feeding and Focus
    accomplished in one delicious moment. This website keeps one’s
    verbal skills fit and donates grains of rice to the UN Food Bank, an
    opportunity for altruism that the brain also relishes.
   Sprinkle sheets with a lavender scent to promote sleep and turn
    computers, lamps, and digital clocks away from the pillow so that
    the light doesn’t interfere with deep sleep. Freshness is brain
   Send a hand-written note to a friend or colleague who has done
    something kind or who needs some attention. Include a
    description of how that person has impacted your life. Writing
    details enhances Focus. Use a purple fine tip pen to write. This
    color adds Fun to the simple task.
   Organize a recipe file, tools, or even shoes into a new grouping
    using colors, tags, and labels. Donate items that are no longer
    used. Focus and Fitness combine to make this task worthwhile.
   Tune the computer to and listen to a different
    style of music or look for an artist whom you once admired. What
    memories and feelings do the songs elicit? Focus , Freshness,
    and Fun combine and Feeding tags along when one adds a brain
    fitness snack of walnuts and dried cranberries.

   Brain fitness, pardon the pun….is really a state of mind. It is about
being mindful of making fun, focus, freshness, and feeding a part of every
day in as many experiences as one can. Challenging oneself to make
brain-healthy choices can enhance cognitive and emotional strengths and
bolster weak areas. Research suggests that one’s creativity, happiness,
and thinking can be stronger and more sustained through careful
application of fun, focus, freshness, and feeding and it makes sense. Why
settle for a day of frustrating set-backs when life could be more peaceful
and satisfying. I’m sipping my blueberry smoothie right now and heading
for bed with a lavender eye patch. There’s no telling what tomorrow may
hold and I want to be prepared!


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