Stay sharp with stronger muscles

Here’s a surprise, there’s a link between muscle strength and brain health. One study published in the Archives of Neurology, shows that muscle strength is actually linked with a lower risk of cognitive impairment. In older people, lack of strength is an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.
That doesn’t prove that weak muscles cause Alzheimer’s, but it does support the idea that there is a real link between physical health and brain health. It also suggests that keeping strong is important at all ages.

Author tells how to make your brain work better

In his new book, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, John Medina uses plain English to describe how the brain functions at work and at school. Medina is the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University.

Though there is quite a bit of technical material in the book, readers can get the nuts-and-bolts advice and information from the one-page summary at the end of each chapter. There is an associated Web site and a DVD is included. Medina’s rules include:

* Exercise boosts brain power.

* We don’t pay attention to boring things.

* Sleep well because that’s when the brain processes the day’s learning.

* Stressed brains don’t work very well.

* Vision trumps all other senses. People begin to pay less attention to long texts. He advocates more instruction using pictures.

* We are powerful and natural explorers. The greatest brain rule is the importance of curiosity, but curiosity is not stressed in the educational system. Only grades are valued.

Regardless of age, Medina says, we can and should be life-long learners.

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina, Pear Press, $29.95

Shopping, buying encouraged by brain activity

There’s a reason why you go to the store for one item and come back with five or six. Shopping boosts your mood and makes you feel good.

That’s the conclusion of Gregory Burns, author of “Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment” (Henry Holt).

Burns writes that “recreational shopping” and “retail therapy” have a real chemical reward.

Shopping triggers release of brain chemicals that give you a shopping high. It’s genetic. With Christmas coming soon, science has new information that could help you keep spending in line and help you understand the highs of buying the lows of buyer’s remorse.

Blame your buying partly on the brain chemical dopamine. It plays a crucial role in our mental and physical health and is associated with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Dopamine is released when we experience something new, exciting, or challenging.

Shopping can be all of those things, according to Burns, an Emory University neuroscientist. Dopamine is like a fuel injector for action, he writes. It urges you to seal the deal, even though you may never use the item. Once you have it, however, you get a let-down feeling.

To make better shopping decisions, experts recommend:

* Buy only what’s on your list.

* Use cash or debit cards to keep you from buying things you can’t afford.

* Window-shop when stores are closed or your wallet is at home.

* Don’t shop with friends or relatives. The novelty puts you at a higher risk of buying things you don’t need.