Even a one-time, brief burst of exercise can improve focus, problem-solving
Date: December 21, 2017
Source: University of Western Ontario
While other studies have showed brain-health benefits after 20-minutes of a single-bout of exercise, or following commitment to a long-term (24-week) exercise program, this research suggests even 10 minutes of aerobic activity can prime the parts of the brain that help us problem-solve and focus.
"Some people can't commit to a long-term exercise regime because of time or physical capacity," said Kinesiology Prof. Matthew Heath, who is also a supervisor in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience and, with master's student Ashna Samani, conducted the study. "This shows that people can cycle or walk briskly for a short duration, even once, and find immediate benefits."
During the study, research participants either sat and read a magazine or did 10 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise on a stationary bicycle. Following the reading and exercise session, the researchers used eye-tracking equipment to examine participants' reaction times to a cognitively demanding eye movement task. The task was designed to challenge areas of the brain responsible for executive function such as decision-making and inhibition.
"Those who had exercised showed immediate improvement. Their responses were more accurate and their reaction times were up to 50 milliseconds shorter than their pre-exercise values. That may seem minuscule but it represented a 14-per-cent gain in cognitive performance in some instances," said Heath, who is also an associate member of Western's Brain and Mind institute. He is conducting a study now to determine how long the benefits may last following exercise.
The work has significance for older people in early stages of dementia who may be less mobile, he said, and for anyone else looking to gain quick a mental edge in their work.
"I always tell my students before they write a test or an exam or go into an interview -- or do anything that is cognitively demanding -- they should get some exercise first," Heath said. "Our study shows the brain's networks like it. They perform better.
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Study finds high body mass index predicts increases in depressive symptoms
By Eric W. Dolan
Having a high body mass index increases the risk of depressive symptoms over a 5-year period, according to new research.
BMI is a ratio of height and weight that is used to assess whether an individual’s weight is in a healthy range. The new study, published in the Journal of Health Psychology, found that higher BMIs predicted increased future depressive symptoms among older adults.
“Over the last few decades, the percentage of obese older adults in the U.S. has risen considerably. While body mass, an index of weight relative to height often used to define obesity, is just one of many risk factors, there is such an appreciable number of metabolic health sequelae associated with obesity that it is important for us to observe how obesity may also impact psychobiological health as we age,” explained study author Peter Joseph Dearborn of the University of Maine.
“I noticed that while there was a lot of research in recent years regarding body mass and psychological health, much of this research was conducted with younger individuals and rarely did researchers account for the temporal relationships between depressive symptoms and body mass.”
“Essentially, I was interested in the chicken and egg question,” Dearborn told PsyPost. “Does higher body mass predict increases in depressive symptoms, is it the other way around, or does the prediction work in both directions?”
“Testing these bidirectional associations simultaneously allows us to address the ‘file drawer problem’ in research, where negative results are less likely to be published,” Dearborn said. “Is there a true bidirectional association between depressive symptoms and body mass or are null findings just not being selected for publication?”
For their research, Dearborn and his colleagues analyzed data from the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study. The longitudinal study has collected information on more than 2,000 participants over a period of 35 years, including risk factors for cardiovascular disease, clinical cognitive performance measures, and personality and lifestyle measures.
For their new study, the researchers examined 638 participants who were over the age of 50. They found that a higher BMI was linked to a greater risk of depressive symptoms.
“Our results suggest that among older adults, higher BMI was associated with increased levels of depressive symptoms over time, but the reverse was not found,” Dearborn explained to PsyPost. “Moreover, the effect of BMI on depressive symptoms over time appears to be similar for women and men. That is, while the women in our sample had higher levels of symptoms compared with the men, the increases we observed as a function of BMI were the same regardless of gender.”
The researchers controlled for a number of potentially confounding variables, such as baseline depressive symptoms, age, sex, education, marital status, social isolation, social activity, chronic illness, and physical functioning.
But the study still has some limitations.
“There are a few caveats to this or any study which is why human research is so interesting!” Dearborn remarked. “It allows us to keep asking questions to get a better picture of the complex human condition.”
“First off, humans are not monolithic. At the level of the individual, a higher BMI does not mean that an increase in symptoms will definitely be experienced. These results are pooled over hundreds of individuals with varying levels of risk.”
“Second, even though we did our best to account for risk factors associated with BMI and symptoms, this was an observational study, so causality eludes us,” Dearborn continued.
“Third, our models accounted for under half of the observed changes of depressive symptoms over the five year period, which leaves plenty of room for other explanatory variables. For example, experiencing weight stigma has been associated with depressive symptom risk and has increased in prevalence over the last couple decades despite higher BMIs being more common than ever.”
“Lastly, our sample had a lack of underweight individuals and there is research to suggest that both underweight and obese individuals may have higher symptom risk compared with adults in the middle of the spectrum.”
“I think it is important to note that even minor changes in daily behavior over time can be effective in preventing depressive symptom risk,” Dearborn added. “Several studies have shown that increasing one’s level of physical activity (e.g., walking, gardening, bike commuting, etc.) can lower symptom risk independent from any potential changes in one’s weight status.”
The study, “Challenging the ‘jolly fat’ hypothesis among older adults: High body mass index predicts increases in depressive symptoms over a 5-year period“, Michael A Robbins and Merrill F Elias.
Does Apple Have an Obligation to Make the iPhone Safer for Kids?
The psychologist who helped draft a complaint letter to Apple weighs in with her opinion about phones and children
By Jean Twenge
The Conversation US
January 9, 2018
The average teen spends at least six hours a day looking at a screen, with most of it from using a smartphone.
Many parents, naturally, have wondered if so much time spent in front of a screen is safe.
Steve Jobs might have been onto something when he told a surprised reporter in 2010 that he didn’t let his kids use iPads and he generally restricted their screen time.
Indeed, there’s an increasing consensus that the technology companies who have led us into the digital age have a responsibility to build some safeguards. That’s why I helped draft a letter from Apple shareholders spearheaded by Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System that asks the company to take steps to protect their youngest consumers. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it could also improve the company’s bottom line.
Limitation, not elimination
According to the research, the problem isn’t teens owning smartphones. In fact, teens who don’t use smartphones at all are actually a little less happy than those who use them a limited amount. It’s only when use goes beyond two hours a day that issues begin to appear, including less sleep and a higher risk of suicide-related outcomes such as depression and making suicide plans. The solution, then, seems easy: Limit the amount of time the device can be used and how it can be used. This works out fairly well for Apple; most of their profit is locked in once someone buys an iPhone or iPad, regardless of how much the owner uses it.
The problem is that most teens who are handed a smartphone aren’t going to use it for just an hour or two per day. Research suggests that digital media stimulates the same brain chemicals and regions as other addictive products. Although some teens are able to limit their use, a substantial number end up spending the majority of their leisure time with their devices, which—as noted earlier—could lead to mental health issues.
Some have pointed out that parents can use third-party apps such as Kidslox or Norton Family Premier to limit time spent on the phone or on social media sites. Although some parents might find these apps helpful, others might be overwhelmed by the setup process or find the download fees too expensive. Clever teens might also find ways around these apps.
But what if Apple were to include the ability to limit screen time in the iPhone’s operating system? For example, when registering and setting up the phone, Apple could include an option to select the age of the user. If you say the phone is for a 12-year-old, it could give parents the option to restrict the apps used, shut down the phone at night, limit the number of hours it can be used and permit communication with a preapproved list of phone numbers. As the child grows older, these restrictions could be changed or lifted. Making this part of the iOS would seamlessly integrate safety for children and teens into the iPhone—and seamless integration has always been Apple’s calling card.
Better phones for happier kids
This has another benefit for Apple: Parents might be more willing to buy their children smartphones if they were easier to regulate. Outside of buying an old-school flip phone—which are increasingly difficult to find—there’s currently no easy way to give a child a cellphone without opening up the world of unlimited internet access, constant social media and endless evenings spent arguing over putting the phone away at dinner. As the parent of an 11-year-old, I would be much more comfortable giving my daughter a smartphone if I knew she wouldn’t be bullied on it, see things she shouldn’t see or stare at it for six hours a day. Social media companies like Facebook also have something to answer for here – and they know it. Given links between advertising revenue and time spent on the site, balancing profit and safety will be a tougher task for them. But for Apple, it’s arguably a win-win: The safer their product is for kids, the more they could sell. So why not make it safer by offering parents more tools and options?
10 medjool dates, pitted (if dried out, soak in warm water for 10 minutes then drain)
1 1/4 cups dark chocolate (real chocolate bar, not chips), roughly chopped*
1 tsp coconut oil
FOR TOPPING (optional)
1/4 cup cacao nibs, crushed pecans/walnuts, and/or sea salt for topping
Place pecans and walnuts in a food processor or high speed blender and process until it reaches the consistency of a meal. Remove and set aside in a dish.
Next, place pitted dates in the food processor and process until small bits remain and/or it forms into a ball.
Then add in the cocoa powder and 1/2 of the nut meal and pulse. Continue pulsing and adding the nut meal a little at a time until a loose dough is formed. You may not need to use all of the nuts, which is fine because you can use any leftovers for topping the truffles.
Once you have a dough that's easy to form into balls, scoop out 1 Tablespoon amounts and roll/carefully form into balls. (If they aren't quite forming, hold in your palm and let the heat of your hand warm them, then gently shape into a loose ball.) Set on parchment paper and place in freezer to chill - you should have about 14 truffles.
In the meantime, melt chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave in 30 second increments. Be careful not to overheat. Once melted, stir in coconut oil to help the chocolate thin and ease the dipping process.
Remove truffles from freezer and, one at a time, dip them into the melted chocolate. Use a fork to remove them and tap away excess chocolate. Transfer back onto parchment paper and top with sea salt, crushed pecans, or cacao nibs.
Repeat until all truffles are dipped. Let set at room temperature. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature. Transfer to freezer for longer term storage.
*To cut down on sugar/fat content, halve the amount of semisweet chocolate and, upon melting, simply drizzle over the truffles instead of dipping.
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