Exercise Promotes Brain Plasticity (BSP 111)

John Ratey, MD Click picture to hear interview

John Ratey, MD
Click picture to hear interview

According to psychiatrist Dr. John Ratey the best way to improve brain plasticity is by exercise.  I spoke to him shortly after he published his best-seller Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (2008). He commented that even compared to drugs "Exercise is the champ."

Download BSP 111

Since then Dr. Ratey has been traveling the world promoting the value of exercise for people of all ages, but his main focus has been on young people and on trying to restore and invigorate physical education programs in the schools. In Spark he provided some of the preliminary evidence that vigorous exercise promotes better academic performance, but that evidence had continued to mount.

Besides improving academic performance regular exercise also helps over all mental health. Exercise is especially effective for problems like depression and ADHD. Our brains rely on a complex mixture of neuroactive chemicals (neurotransmitters, etc.), but since our understanding of these is still very primitive, treatment with drugs can be unpredictable. Dr. Ratey feels that medications can be an important part of treating problems like ADHD, but that exercise should be included as an essential element.

Of course, even those of us who don't struggle with mental illnes are concerned with keeping our brains healthy as we age. Here again Dr. Ratey argues that exercise is essential. He speculates that exercise tricks your brain "into thinking that you're younger and that you still need to grow, as opposed to being stationary and having atrophy occur." Also, when you keep on learning (new things) your brain continues to respond and build new pathways. This is very similar to what Dr. Michael Merzenich (one of the pioneers of brain plasticity) told us in BSP 105.

Dr. Ratey is working on a new book that will be an update on the science that has been done since Spark was published, but his 2008 interview remains one of my favorites. That's why I just released an updated version of this interview as BSP 111. 

How to get this episode:

  • FREE: audio mp3 (click to stream, right click to download)

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Review of Year 2 of the Brain Science Podcast (BSP 52)

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Brain Science Podcast #52 is our Second Annual Review Episode.  We review some of the highlights from 2008.  I also discuss the various other on-line resources that I have created for listeners.  Then we look ahead to what I have planned for 2009. This episode is aimed at all listeners, including those who are new to the show.

How to get this episode:

  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • Buy mp3 for $1.
  • Buy Transcript for $1.
  • New episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are always FREE.  All episodes posted after January 1, 2013, are free.  See the individual show notes for links the audio files.

Highlights from 2008:

Early in the year (#30) I discussed language evolution.  My criticism of Noam Chomsky's claim that human language results from a Universal Grammar Module generated quite a bit of discussion.  My main purpose was to emphasize that current neuroscience does not support this hypothesis.  I discussed Chomsky's work in follow-up interviews with Dr. Michael Arbib (BSP 39) and linguist Alice Gaby (BSP 41).

It is my impression that, at least to some extent, this debate comes back to the age-old "nature versus nurture" controversy, which I discussed more explicitly way back in Episode 4.  The evidence seems to be mounting that human intelligence is a product of  both processes.

There is no doubt that the capacity for language is inherited, but brain plasticity appears to be equally important.  One piece of evidence for this is that the changes in the brain that occur when people learn to read are different between languages like English and German and those like Chinese and Japanese. (Episode 24 and Episode 29)

We had 17 guests on the Brain Science Podcast in 2008, so I can't mention them all here.

  • John Ratey, MD: In Episode 33 we talked about exercise and the brain, while in Episode 45 we talked about ADD.
  • Robert Burton, MD:  In Episode 43 talked about the implications of the discovery that our sense of knowing (feeling certain) is generated by parts of the brain that are outside our conscious control!
  • John Medina, PhD: In Episode 37 we considered the practical implications of neuroscience, such as the importance of getting enough sleep and why true multi-tasking is actually impossible.
  • Dr. Brenda Milner: In Episode 49 this pioneering neuroscientist shared highlights from her long career.

Another highlight was our first live podcast, which was recorded at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, Georgia on August 31.

In the fall I returned to the subject of evolution with a three part series on the evolution of the brain.

  • Episode 47, Episode 48, and Episode 51.
  • Episode 51 is an outstanding interview with Dr. Seth Grant in which we discuss the surprising discovery that synapse complexity seems to have evolved BEFORE larger more complex brains.

Online Resources for Listeners:

  • I encouraged listeners to frequent this website and to subscribe to the RSS feed so as to receive information between posts.
  • I encouraged listeners to explored the sidebars and tabs on the website for links to other sites of interest.
  • I reminded listeners that this website includes a complete listing of previous episodes as well as a list of all the guests that have been on the show.
  • It is now possible to support the Brain Science Podcast  via both PayPal and by direct mail.
  • I encouraged listeners to participate in our Discussion Forum and to post pictures to our Flickr Group.
  • I invited listeners to contribute content to the Brain Science Podcast Room on FriendFeed and the new Neuroscience News Network on SocialMedian.
  • I reminded listeners that my personal blog is now at http://gingercampbellmd.com.  This site includes abridged show notes for the Brain Science Podcast as well as the complete show notes for Books and Ideas.
  • Listeners are encouraged to continue to post reviews on iTunes™, Podcast Pickle, Podcast Alley, Digg, and similar sites. All blog posts and tweets are greatly appreciated.

Send email feedback to Ginger Campbell, MD at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com

 

John Ratey, MD Discusses ADD (BSP 45)

John J. Ratey, M.D.

Have you ever wondered why a child with ADD can play videos games for hours, but can't concentrate on his homework for a few minutes?  This is one of the paradoxes of attention-deficit disorder that John J Ratey, MD, co-author of, Driven To Distraction : Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood, explains in Episode 45 of the Brain Science Podcast.

During this interview, Dr. Ratey discusses the latest findings about the biological basis of what he calls "attention variability disorder."  He also offers practical advice for patients and parents dealing with ADD/ADHD.  One very important, and somewhat surprising, fact that he shares is that patients who are treated with medications during adolescence have a significantly lower risk of developing problems with addiction and drug abuse later on compared to those who are not treated.  Also, successful "ADD-ers" like Michael Phelps show that "having a mission" makes a huge difference.

Dr. Ratey's most recent book is Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, which he discussed with me (Dr. Campbell) in Episode 33.

How to get this episode:

  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • Buy mp3 for $1.
  • Buy Transcript for $1.
  • New episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are always FREE.  All episodes posted after January 1, 2013, are free.  See the individual show notes for links the audio files.

Detailed Show Notes

Topics discussed:

  • Why our current cyber-culture  exacerbates symptoms.
  • The genetic component.
  • The role of dopamine and epinephrine.
  • The relationship between ADD and addiction.
  • Why ADD effects all the brain systems including memory.
  • The importance of strengthening executive (frontal lobe) function.

Successful people with ADD:

  • Michael Phelps-winner of 8 Gold Medals for Swimming in 2008 Olympics.
  • Rick Warren-founder of The Purpose Driven Church.

Practical Advice:

  • the need for a mission.
  • environmental changes.
  • the role of meditation and exercise.
  • why stimulant medication helps.
  • training the cerebellum.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids (Dr. Ratey recommends OmegaBrite™).

Links:

Send email feedback to Ginger Campbell, MD at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com

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Guests Who Have Been on the Brain Science Podcast

The Brain Science Podcast provides a unique opportunity for scientists and writers to discuss their work and ideas in depth. Here is a list of the guests who have been interviewed. This list is complete through June 13, 2008.
  • Michael Arbib, PhD: The role of mirror neurons in imitation and language; Episode 39.
  • Sandra Blakeslee: co-author of The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better; Episode 23.
  • Louanne Brizendine MD: author of The Female Brain; Episode 20.
  • György Buzsáki, PhD: author of Rhythms of the Brain; Episode 31. (Interview Transcript)
  • Norman Doidge, MD: author of The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science; Episode 26.
  • Arthur Glenberg, PhD: Embodied cognition; Episode 36.
  • Elkhonon Goldberg, PhD: author of The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind and The Wisdom Paradox; Episode 18.
  • Jeff Hawkins: author of On Intelligence; Episode 38.
  • Rachel Herz, PhD: author of The Scent of Desire: Discovering our Enigmatic Sense of Smell; Episode 34.
  • Christof Koch, PhD: author of The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach; Episode 22. Interview transcript: http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dg8sf6hf_33z9z29kfm
  • John Medina, PhD: author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School; Episode 37.
  • Read Montague, PhD: author of Why Choose This Book?: How We Make Decisions; Episode 15.
  • Rolf Pfiefer, PhD: author of How the Body Shapes the Way We Think: A New View of Intelligence ; Episode 25.
  • John J Ratey, MD: author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain; Episode 33.
  • Stuart Shanker, PhD: How the study of communication among bonobos provides clues about the role of emotional signaling in the evolution of language; Episode 7.
  • Edward Taub, PhD: revolutionary approach to stroke rehabilitation; Episode 28.
  • Maryanne Wolf, PhD: author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain; Episode 29.

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You can find all the books discussed on the Brain Science Podcast at the Brain Science Store.

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More on BDNF: "Miracle Grow" for the Brain

In Episode 33 of the Brain Science Podcast, Harvard's Dr. John Ratey introduced us to brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), which he described as "Miracle Grow for the Brain" because it actually stimulates the grow of new neurons in the brain.  The emphasis in our discussion was on the importance of exercise in stimulating the release of BDNF.

If you are interested in checking out some further references on BDNF, you may want to check out Charles Daney's Science and Reason Blog.  Daney also does a good job of explaining exactly what a neurotropic factor is and does.

Exercise and the Brain (BSP 33)

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John J. Ratey, M.D.

Episode 33 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with Harvard physician, Dr. John Ratey, about his new book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

We explore the exciting evidence about how exercise helps the brain.  It stimulates the release of a number of different neurotransmitters and neuropeptides, but probably more importantly, it helps keeps these compounds balanced.  We consider why exercise is so important in dealing with stress, in treating a wide range of mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder.  There is also evidence that exercise improves our ability to learn and our ability to avoid the loss of mental agility associated with aging.

We explore the exciting evidence about how exercise helps the brain.  It stimulates the release of a number of different neurotransmitters and neuropeptides, but probably more importantly, it helps keeps these compounds balanced.  We consider why exercise is so important in dealing with stress, in treating a wide range of mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder.  There is also evidence that exercise improves our ability to learn and our ability to avoid the loss of mental agility associated with aging.

How to get this episode:

  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • Buy mp3 for $1.
  • Buy Transcript for $1.
  • New episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are always FREE. All episodes posted after January 1, 2013, are free.  See the individual show notes for links the audio files.

This episode contains information that everyone can use.  I hope you will share it with your friends and family.

Links and References:

 

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