Improve your cognitive and mental health with the latest brain health and fitness news, carefully curated and medically reviewed, from around the web.
January 12, 2020
Best Diets Overall
Every year, US News ranks the top diets for overall health with input from a panel of health experts. To be top-rated, a diet has to be easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss, and protective against diabetes and heart disease. The top-rated diet, once again, is the Mediterranean diet, which is also a top diet for brain health and mental wellness.
Suicide risk is often associated with financial stress. A simple $1 raise in minimum wage resulted in a significant drop in suicide rates, particularly among those without higher education.
January Blues: Cross-Country Skiers Hold Clues to Beating It
Getting physical exercise is a major key to overcoming winter blues. A study that followed 200,000 long-distance skiers for two decades found that skiers are 50% less likely to develop depression than the rest of the population.
Four-Time Memory Champion: 3 Things You Should Do Every Day to Improve Your Memory
Nelson Dellis, a four-time USA Memory Champion, reveals his top three tips for improving your memory and staying mentally sharp.
When You’re Exhausted in the New Year
If you find yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted after the holidays, making major lifestyle changes on January 1st is unlikely to be successful. There is no need to make changes in January — you can choose any day of any month instead.
January 5, 2020
Want to Help Your Resolutions Stick? Make This One-Word Change
Instead of saying to yourself that you “must” or “should” do something, use the word “want” instead. So, for example, if you find yourself saying “I should exercise every day” say “I want to exercise every day.” Want-to goals reflect your genuine interest and values, while have-to goals are often imposed by outside forces.
Key Changes on the New Nutrition Labels
In the US, new food and supplement labels are rolling out this month. One change you’ll see is the inclusion of vitamin D, a nutrient essential for a healthy brain. It’s been included because so many people don’t get enough. But there is a big fallacy here. Very few foods contain vitamin D naturally. Only cold-water oily fish contain it in appreciable amounts. When you see vitamin D on a packaged food label, that food is fortified with vitamin D2, a form not well utilized by the body.
Want to Sync the 2 Hemispheres of Your Brain? Neuroscience Says to Do This Daily
An easy way to get the two hemispheres of your brain working together is with cross-body movement which gets the opposite sides of your body working together. Examples are walking, swimming, or the cross movement exercises explained in this article.
Experiences of Depression Connected to Declining Sense of Purpose
A new Yale University study found a strong link between depression and a declining sense of purpose. People who screened positive for depression were “dealing with profound ruptures to what they were living for — their dreams for work, relationships, and a meaningful life.”
Volunteering and Other Good Deeds Reduce Physical Pain
Volunteering causes a “helper’s high.” It minimizes stress, improves depression, and reduces the risk of cognitive impairment. It can also reduce pain and even help you live longer.
December 29, 2019
Your DNA Is Not Your Destiny, Or a Good Predictor of Your Health
Scientists who reviewed the results of over 3,700 studies concluded that the vast majority of diseases, including many cancers, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, have a small genetic component of only 5 to 10%.
Study: ‘Mental Rigidity’ the Root Cause of Political Polarization in United States
A recent study finds that “mental rigidity” is the root cause of political partisanship and increased polarization. You can become more mentally flexible, and help others become so too, by engaging in both physical and mentally stimulating exercises.
Dog Walker Helps Men Talk About Mental Health
After dog walking helped pull one man out of depression, he founded “Dudes and Dogs,” a group that encourages men to open up about mental health issues by taking dog walks together.
Why You Should Make Reading Every Day Your New Year’s Resolution
Reading can boost your brain power, help you empathize and connect with others, and is a great way to relax. When reading an engrossing book, you enter an altered state of consciousness.
The Scientific Reason Why Gardening Is So Relaxing
Gardening offers many obvious benefits such as an escape from daily pressures, fresh air, and exercise. But gardening also excels at getting you “in the zone.” In this highly focused mental state, you become so absorbed in the task at hand that you don’t notice the passage of time.
December 22, 2019
Want to Avoid the Holiday Blues? Skip the Sweet Treats
The holidays can be a perfect storm of dwindling daylight, changes in sleep patterns, and high sugar consumption. This in turn can trigger metabolic, inflammatory, and neurobiological processes linked to holiday blues.
4 Common But Harmful Myths About How Your Brain Works
Believing common brain myths, such as that you are either left-brained or right-brained, is self-limiting and can make life harder. Psychology professor Art Markman explains why you should stop believing these things about your brain and how to put the truth about your brain to work for you.
The Ripple Effects of a Thank You
Being thankful and expressing gratitude to others is good for the mental wellness of both you and the recipient. And now, new research shows that witnessing expressions of gratitude can positively affect anyone who sees it, creating a powerful ripple effect.
The Danger of Retail Therapy This Holiday Season … and Beyond
While you’re shopping for gifts anyway, it’s tempting to indulge in a little “retail therapy” to relieve stress, but this can make you more stressed in the long run. Learn better ways to relieve holiday stress that won’t leave you with a pile of unpaid bills next month.
What Really Builds Resilience in Kids? (It’s Not What You Think)
Telling kids to toughen up does not help them become more resilient. Teaching them self-regulation does. Here’s a 5-step plan on how to do that. It works for adults too.
December 15, 2019
Why Do Hangovers Happen and What Can You Do About Them?
It’s not fully understood how alcohol causes hangovers, but it’s likely a combination of toxicity, dehydration, poor sleep, and the body’s attempt to achieve homeostasis. Take a look at evidence-based hangover treatments.
FCC Approves Plan for 3-Digit Suicide Prevention Number Similar to 911
The US Federal Communications Commission has designated the number 988 as a new suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. All telephone service providers will be required to accommodate 988 within 18 months.
Good at Heart? 10 Psychology Findings That Reveal the Better Side of Humanity
It’s easy to get discouraged about humanity, but here’s a look at some of the research that demonstrates just how kind and compassionate we humans can be.
Science Says Celebrating Holidays Could Make You Happier
People from the happiest places in the world find ways to actively express their gratitude and celebrate life regularly throughout the year. While the holidays can be stressful, those who celebrate something are generally happier than those who forgo celebrating at all.
Holiday Music Is Bad for Your Mental Health, According to Science — Here’s Why
A Consumer Reports survey found that 23% of Americans dread hearing the endless loop of holiday music. Listening to Christmas songs all season long produces cognitive fatigue, irritates consumers, and affects employee productivity.
December 8, 2019
Perfectionism Is Killing Us
Perfectionism is on the rise. This is a troubling trend because perfectionism is linked to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Breaking Point: Average Person Can’t Last Four Hours With Their Family Over the Holidays
Virtually everyone believes it is important to spend time with family over the holidays, yet most of us find it a stressful experience. When visiting with family, don’t be afraid to take some alone time as needed to keep the peace and keep your stress level down.
These Common Ways of Seeking Happiness Can Backfire
The pursuit of happiness is elusive. Common happiness thieves include having unrealistic standards, partaking of fleeting pleasures, and monitoring (rather than experiencing) life. Pursuing goals that matter to you for their own sake — rather than striving for happiness itself — is more likely to lead to happiness.
Key Brain Region Smaller in Birth Control Pill Users
A new neuroimaging study reveals that women who take birth control pills have reduced volume in an area of the brain known as the hypothalamus. This loss of volume is associated with negative emotions and increased risk of depression.
Americans Weigh More This Decade, But Fewer Adults Want to Lose Weight
Being overweight is the new normal and many adults have quit trying to lose weight. This is unfortunate since being overweight is linked to reduced blood flow to the brain, premature brain aging, and measurable brain shrinkage.
December 1, 2019
The Truth About Chemical Exposure in Nail Salons Is Worse Than You Might Think
Nail salons are a completely avoidable source of neurotoxins, substances toxic to the brain and central nervous system. These salons reek of odors from benzene, formaldehyde, ethylbenzene, xylene, and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). An alternative is to care for your nails at home in a well-ventilated area (or outside) using low-toxicity nail polish.
Piracetam — An Unapproved Drug, Found in Brain Supplements
Some brain supplements have been found to contain the unapproved drug piracetam. Piracetam is sometimes taken as a smart drug, but there’s little evidence that it works. It also has numerous side effects including depression, anxiety, drowsiness, weight gain, and sleep problems.
Psychiatric Adverse Effects of Antibiotics
Nearly all antibiotics have been associated with central nervous system effects that include headache, nervousness, restlessness, hallucinations, aggression, insomnia, psychosis, and neuropathy. Fortunately, these symptoms almost always go away once you stop taking antibiotics.
Parkinson’s Patients Are Mysteriously Losing the Ability to Swim After Treatment
Deep brain stimulation can help control neurological symptoms in Parkinson’s patients. But an unusual side effect has been observed. Some patients, even those with good motor skills, lose their ability to swim after the procedure. Medical mysteries like this remind us that there is much we don’t know about the brain.
Is Positive Psychology All It’s Cracked Up to Be?
The positive psychology movement encourages people to focus on nurturing their strengths, rather than trying to fix their shortcomings. But skeptics say that this approach gives the impression that you should be able to make yourself happy and mentally well just by thinking the right thoughts, putting the blame for not getting better on the patient.
November 24, 2019
10 Tips for Surviving Holiday Family Gatherings
The holidays can be the most difficult time of year. Here are some tips from a psychotherapist on how to make Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other family gatherings less stressful.
Four Ways Gratitude Helps You with Difficult Feelings
When life gets hard, being grateful makes you feel good and makes you more resilient. Grateful people are better able to cope with stress and deal with negative emotions.
Your 5-Day Gratitude Challenge, from TED Speakers
Would you like to be more grateful, but aren’t sure how to go about it? Here are 5 simple exercises that will easily strengthen your gratitude muscles.
Some Relief for Test Anxiety Is Found in an Unusual Treatment
Students often turn to anti-anxiety medications or smart drugs for test anxiety relief. In a fascinating study, students were given placebos and were told they were placebos, and yet the remedy still provided anxiety relief.
Trash Talk Hurts, Even When It Comes from a Robot
Trash talking has a long and colorful history of flustering game opponents. We are so wired to not like criticism that getting trash-talked even while playing a game with a robot has a negative impact on performance.
November 17, 2019
Long-Term Exposure to Adversity May Dampen Dopamine Production
Long-term exposure to extreme adversity may alter the brain’s dopamine system. Examples of these kinds of stressors include having faced poverty, grief, domestic violence, or social discrimination.
Niksen: The Dutch Art of Purposefully Doing Nothing
Purposely “doing nothing” may be one of the reasons the Dutch are among the happiest people on earth. Time spent daydreaming or simply “being” can decrease anxiety, enhance creativity, and boost productivity.
What’s the Best Way to Learn? The 85% Rule Says It’s OK to Make Mistakes
If you want to optimize your ability to learn, set aside your perfectionist tendencies and don’t be afraid of making some mistakes. The sweet spot seems to be allowing for a 15% error rate.
Study Finds Brains of Girls and Boys Are Similar, Producing Equal Math Ability
That boys are better at math and science than girls is a brain myth that won’t die. But the latest research found no gender disparity in how boys and girls learn and perform math skills.
World’s First Airport Therapy Pig Hogs the Limelight at San Francisco Airport
Pigs might not fly, but one pig is making air travel less stressful. LiLou the pig is part of San Francisco International Airport’s “Wag Brigade” — a program that brings therapy animals to the airport to help ease passengers’ travel anxieties.
November 10, 2019
Fair Fighting Rules From a Marriage Therapist
Resolving conflict within a marriage or other serious relationship requires a unique set of skills — the ability to listen, communicate without blame, and manage difficult emotions. In this article, a marriage and family therapist reveals how to fight fair, saving your relationships from destructive arguments and saying things you’ll later regret.
What Focusing on the Breath Does to Your Brain
We’ve all heard the age-old wisdom of calming down by taking a deep breath. Recent research confirms that this works by activating several areas of the brain linked to emotion, attention, and body awareness.
People Who Try to Be Environmentally-Friendly by Buying Less Stuff Are Happier
“Buying green” is largely an oxymoron. You can better help the environment and be happier by simply buying less stuff.
Blue Spaces: Why Time Spent Near Water Is the Secret of Happiness
Spending time in green spaces is good for your mental well-being, but so is being near water. But if you don’t live near a large body of water, even spending time near a fountain will do.
Tobacco Smoking Increases Risk of Depression and Schizophrenia
It is well-known that smoking is much more common among people with mental illness, but it’s not clear which comes first. The latest research conducted on nearly a half million participants determined that smoking increases the risk of certain mental disorders, not the other way around.
November 3, 2019
Consumer Reports Tests: Turmeric and Echinacea
Turmeric is a popular brain supplement. Of the turmeric products Consumer Reports tested, one-third did not meet their standards due to elevated levels of lead or bacteria, or low levels of active compounds (curcuminoids). Learn which turmeric supplements met their criteria, and which did not.
Shockingly Simple: Aspirin, Advil, Fish Oil Effectively and Safely Help Curb Depression
There’s growing evidence that depression may be a result of chronic inflammation. Anti-inflammatory agents, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and fish oil, can curb the symptoms of major depression. They also enhance the effects of prescription antidepressants when taken together.
Alzheimer’s Risk May Be 75% Higher for People Who Eat Trans Fats
Here’s another good reason to avoid trans fats, those unhealthy fats found in fast food, fried foods, coffee creamer, and other processed foods. People with higher levels of trans fats in their blood are up to 75% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Half of All Commonly Used Drugs Profoundly Affecting the Gut Microbiome
It’s common knowledge that antibiotics disrupt your gut bacteria. But surprisingly, proton pump inhibitors (for acid reflux), Metformin (for diabetes), and laxatives are also among the worst drugs that disrupt gut bacteria. A dysfunctional microbiome can be the root cause of anxiety, depression, ADHD, memory loss, concentration issues, chronic inflammation, and more.
5 Effective Exercises to Help You Stop Believing Your Unwanted Automatic Thoughts
Psychology professor Steven Hayes, PhD, reveals five simple exercises to quiet automatic negative thoughts, the constant stream of internal statements, criticisms, and commands we all have running through our heads.
October 27, 2019
For Most Healthy People, Benefits of Statins “May Be Marginal at Best”
For years, doctors have been pushing statins even though they are among the worst drugs for causing memory loss. The latest research finds the benefits of statins for heart disease prevention to be “small and uncertain” and the indiscriminate use of statins is “a waste of healthcare resources.”
How Did Halloween Become a Monster Holiday?
How did an ancient pagan ritual become a billion-dollar holiday? People like to experience fear in a safe, controlled environment, such as watching horror movies or riding roller coasters. (And free chocolate doesn’t hurt either.)
Stimulants: Using Them to Cram for Exams Ruins Sleep and Doesn’t Help Test Scores
The non-prescription use of stimulants as smart drugs is a growing problem on college campuses. They are potentially addictive and interfere with the sleep your brain needs to function. These drugs are more hype than help since there’s no evidence they actually help make students smarter or help them get better grades.
A Happy Place: Wolcott Therapeutic Farm Redefining Mental Health Care
One Connecticut counselor who finds nature to be an important part of any mental health treatment plan is offering a new approach. His office resides on a farm where patients can hike, meditate, garden, interact with animals, and reconnect with nature.
Scientists Have Found a New Benefit of Drinking Tea for the Brain
Researchers have found another good reason to drink tea. The brains of tea drinkers are more symmetrical and information more readily flows between various regions of the brain. This results in a more efficient brain and slows the rate of cognitive decline.
October 20, 2019
Can a Jellyfish Protein Improve Your Memory?
Prevagen is a popular brain supplement whose main ingredient is made from a jellyfish protein called apoaequorin. But studies show that this protein is readily digested by stomach acid, and so never makes it into your brain. This article suggests eating fish, a known brain food, instead.
NBA Exec: “It’s the Dirty Little Secret That Everybody Knows About”
Lack of sleep is a huge problem for many people, but especially for NBA basketball players who play 82 games and fly up to 50,000 miles per season. Learn about the steps these pros are taking to get the sleep they need.
“Dopamine Fasting” Is the Newest “Sounds Fake, But OK” Wellness Trend
Dopamine fasting is a growing trend that may have some merit. To combat the effects of too much dopamine caused by overstimulation, Silicon Valley biohackers are taking time off from electronic devices, drugs, and sex, and even embracing silence for 24-hour periods.
Researchers Find Moderate Wine Drinking Does Not Increase Dementia Risk
Harvard researchers confirm that people who drink in moderation suffer from lower rates of cognitive decline than heavy drinkers. Additionally, moderate drinkers are at no greater risk for dementia than non-drinkers.
Top 7 Evidence-Based Mental Health Apps
There’s an abundance of apps that claim to help with mental health issues, but not all of them deliver on that promise. These seven evidenced-based mental health apps have either met US Food and Drug Administration requirements or have at least one clinical research study to support their effectiveness.
October 13, 2019
Digital Psychiatry: Augmenting the Future of Mental Health Practice
Digital psychiatry is gaining acceptance and shows considerable potential to change the face of clinical practice. Current uses include telepsychiatry clinics and online chats.
It Only Takes 3 Weeks of Eating These Key Foods to Reduce Depression
Young adults who ate a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, fish, and lean meat reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety in only three weeks. It seems that forgoing processed food was even more important than the addition of healthy foods.
Want to Enjoy Life More? Ruthlessly Eliminate This Personality Trait
It’s easy to become bitter when faced with disappointments. Bitterness is like a drug that poisons your attitude and relationships. Discover the simple antidote to bitterness.
Stanford Psychology Expert: This Is the No. 1 Work Skill of the Future — But Most Fail to Realize it
In the age of increased automation, the most sought-after jobs are those that require the kind of human ingenuity that comes from focusing deeply on the task at hand. Having laser-like focus is expected to become the single most important job skill you can develop.
How to Identify When Your Brain Is Taking a Harmful Shortcut
So-called “gut reactions” are the result of your brain making decisions using your limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for emotions. Unfortunately, the limbic system has a poor track record for making the best decisions.
October 6, 2019
To Pay Attention, the Brain Uses Filters, Not a Spotlight
Your brain’s ability to filter out distractions might be one of its most important skills to help you pay attention. Be sure to check out the short, fun “Awareness Test” video to see how you do!
A 60,000-Year-Old Cure for Depression
In some Australian hospitals, indigenous healers are now working alongside Western doctors and mental health experts to treat depression or “sickness of the spirit” using complementary treatments including herbs, spiritual ceremonies, and massage.
Genetics and Mental Illness
Many major psychiatric disorders have been found to have a genetic component. So far, the evidence suggests that anxiety disorders and depression are 20-45% inherited, substance abuse is 50-60% inherited, while bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, and attention disorders are upwards of 75% inherited.
How Dishonesty Drains You
Even small instances of dishonesty, ie, “white lies,” have unintended consequences for your emotional intelligence. They undermine your ability to read others’ emotions and consequently negatively affect relationships.
Better With Age: Women Over 50 Are Happier, More Secure Than Women in Their 20s
In our youth-oriented society, older women are generally overlooked. But a survey commissioned by Platinum magazine found that women in their 50s and 60s are more happy and confident than women in their 20s. Mature women also report greater relationship satisfaction.
September 29, 2019
Virtual Assistants with Personality Can Help with Mental Illness
Many people who could benefit from mental health therapy lack access to a therapist. Automated virtual therapists with natural language and personalities are being developed to fill this need.
Here’s the Truth About CBD, From a Cannabis Researcher
Jeffrey Chen, executive director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, explains the potential benefits (eg, for anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction, and Parkinson’s) as well as the drawbacks and unknowns of using CBD oil.
Tai Chi Training Might Promote Emotional Stability and Slow Gray Matter Atrophy in Seniors
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese moving meditation practice. Long-term tai chi practitioners have better emotional stability and more gray matter in two regions of the brain.
A growing number of studies are pointing to a link between air pollution and mental health disorders across all age groups, from kids to adults.
This Could Be Why You’re Depressed and Anxious
Journalist Johann Hari shares insights on the causes of depression and anxiety from experts around the world — as well as some exciting emerging solutions.