Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning
Brain Fact Friday: “Understanding How We Learn: Declarative vs Procedural Systems”

Brain Fact Friday: “Understanding How We Learn: Declarative vs Procedural Systems”

May 14, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #131. Of all the Brain Fact Fridays, so far, this one really made me stop, think and make connections to past episodes, and how the brain learns.

To view images in the show notes, click here.

Welcome back, I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

This week’s brain fact came to me when I was asked to appear this past weekend, on Naomi Toland’s[i] Live Q and A with Barbara Oakley[ii] the author of many books, including Learning How to Learn[iii] to ask her a question related to how the brain learns.

In this episode, you will learn:

✔︎ The 2 Major Ways the Brain Learns

✔︎ The difference between these 2 modes of Learning: Declarative and Procedural Learning

✔︎ Why one of type of learning might work better for one student than the other.

✔︎ Aha Moments for the Classroom, Sports and Beyond.

The first question for Barbara on this call caught my attention, and it was from Phil Stringer[iv], a Department Head of Math, Research Chair of Applied Cognitive Science from Vancouver, Canada, and it was his question that got me thinking.  He asked, “how can we move away from a grades-based culture, to a learning culture…or the idea of using points and grades verses just feedback for students” and I got my pencil out right away, knowing that there are a few schools near me who don’t use grades at all. Students just complete assignments, receive feedback, and work at their own pace. Some students are very happy working in this environment, and I wondered what Barbara, the expert on teaching and learning, would say.

How the Brain Learns:

Her answer blew us all away. The feedback after this event continued all night. She shared her screen and explained that the brain learns through two major systems:

The Declarative System: which is like when I am teaching something. Declarative links in the brain occur because we have listened to an explanation of something. The information goes from the working memory, through the hippocampus and puts the new information into long-term memory.   I thought back to EPISODE #127[v] “How Emotions Impact Learning and the Brain” and thought how important it is to be sure that students are making connections with their learning with what’s important to them, to sear the new learning and information at the brain level using emotion.  Since we “feel” therefore we learn.[vi]

The Procedural System: Is built when we practice a skill over and over again without thinking about it. This new information goes through the Basal Ganglia in the brain and deposits the new learning or new skill learned into the long-term memory. Todd Woodcroft talked about this idea on EPISODE #38[vii] with “The Daily Grind in the NHL” and Dr. John Dunlosky mentioned it in EPISODE #37[viii] when he spoke about the importance of spaced repetition as the most effective cognitive strategy for student success.

We need both types of learning when learning a new language, math, sports, or when we are learning anything, but Barbara reminds us that some people like to learn declaratively, (with an explanation) like people with Dyslexia, and others on the Autism Spectrum Disorder prefer to learn more procedurally, (with practice) if you are applying this to the classroom.

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(Source: Barbara Oakley with Naomi Toland and Phil Stringer) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAwzdCc8EPY

 

This brings us to this week’s Brain Fact Friday:

“We want people to learn both declaratively (through an explanation) or procedurally (by practicing a skill over and over again) but what we learn procedurally, we cannot explain.” Barbara Oakley

AHA Moments for the Classroom

If you have been asking your students to explain every step with their math problems, remember that some mathematical concepts have been acquired procedurally, and they won’t be able to explain it. This doesn’t mean they don’t understand the concept, they just cannot explain it back to you declaratively. Barbara Oakley further explains that “you could even destroy their interest in learning the subject if you force them to explain every step.”

Think About This:

Have you ever asked a student or your own child to explain something and they say, “Oh this is just how I do it?” This is because they were taught the skill using the procedural system and they cannot explain it to you.

Making Connections:

Friederike Fabritius, from EPISODE #27[ix], covers in her book, The Leading Brain: Neuroscience Hacks to Work Smarter, Better, Happier the process of procedural learning or “Intuitive Decisions” as she calls it. She offers the example of when Captain “Sully” Sullenberger explained that he was able to make that safe, emergency landing in the Hudson River that saved all 155 passengers, because he said “for forty-two years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15th the balance was sufficient that I was able to make a withdrawal.”[x]  He acted intuitively, after years of experience.

She also explained this concept with Wayne Gretzky, who is considered to be the greatest hockey player of all time because his years of experience and practice on the ice gave him what many fans consider “hockey sense” or knowing how to be in the right place at the right time.  These “intuitive decisions” come without thinking and Friederike shares that it could even be “disruptive” if you ask someone to explain “how” exactly they do what they do.

To Sum up Brain Fact Friday:

“We want people to learn both declaratively (through an explanation) or procedurally (by practicing a skill over and over again) but what we learn procedurally, we cannot explain.” Barbara Oakley

The procedural system recognizes patterns and helps you to react quickly, so don’t eliminate rote learning from the classroom, just don’t call it Drill and Kill. Call it something more positive, Barbara suggests, like Drill and Skill.  And don’t forget that when learning procedurally, you need to provide feedback immediately. Don’t delay the feedback as this breaks the pattern made, and will make it harder for the student to learn the new skill effectively.

We all learned from Phil Stringer’s question: and were reminded that too much focus on grades or points has a detrimental impact on student learning, but testing a student is one of the most effective ways to help students to learn, since it provides the perfect amount of stress to motivate the student to perform.

I hope you can see the importance of thinking about these 2 ways that our brains acquire new information, and that it opens up your thinking, like it opened up mine. I’m no longer going to ask my children to explain every step in their math problems, and trust that they have learned the steps procedurally.

See you next week where we will have another Case Study, of a fascinating woman, from my hometown of Toronto, who is otherwise known as “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain.”[xi]

 REFERENCES:

[i] Naomi Toland’s Live Q and A with Barbara Oakley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAwzdCc8EPY

[ii] https://barbaraoakley.com/books/

[iii] Learning How to Learn by Barbara Oakley Published August 7, 2018  https://barbaraoakley.com/books/learning-how-to-learn/

[iv] Phil Stringer on Twitter https://twitter.com/xphils and YouTube https://www.youtube.com/user/StringerCHS

[v] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #127 “The Impact of Emotions on Learning and the Brain” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/brain-fact-friday-how-emotions-impact-learning-memory-and-the-brain/

[vi] Mary Helen Immordino Yang Emotions, Learning and the Brain (November 16, 2015) https://www.amazon.com/Emotions-Learning-Brain-Implications-Neuroscience/dp/0393709817

 

[vii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #38 with Todd Woodcroft on “The Daily Grind in the NHL” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/assistant-coach-to-the-winnipeg-jets-todd-woodcroft-on-the-daily-grind-in-the-nhl/

[viii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #37 https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/kent-states-dr-john-dunlosky-on-improving-student-success-some-principles-from-cognitive-science/

[ix] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #27 with Friederike Fabritius on “Achieveing Peak Performance” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/pioneer-in-the-field-of-neuroleadership-friederike-fabritius-on-the-recipe-for-achieving-peak-performance/

[x] The Leading Brain by Friederike Fabritius page 147 https://www.amazon.com/Leading-Brain-Science-Based-Strategies-Performance/dp/014312935X

[xi] The Woman Who Changed Her Brain TEDx Toronto Published April 27, 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0td5aw1KXA

Case Study: The Story of Bridgid Ruden “Overcoming a Severe Traumatic Brain Injury”

Case Study: The Story of Bridgid Ruden “Overcoming a Severe Traumatic Brain Injury”

May 12, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, EPISODE #130 with a fascinating case study/story of Bridgid Ruden[i], a traumatic brain injury survivor, whose life changed on May 24, 2008 with a bicycle accident that would begin her new life inspiring her book Discovering Your Life’s Purpose: From Tragedy to Triumph[ii], as she now inspires people nationally and internationally with her story of resilience.

To watch the interview on YouTube click here.

To see the images in the show notes if you are listening on iTunes click here.

Welcome back, I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

Before I give the backstory of Bridgid, and why I think her story is important to share, I want to read you a testimonial from the doctor who saw her first CT scan after her bike accident in 2008.

“Bridgid, you are a miracle. I remember as your physician telling you these words as I reviewed your brain CT scan from your initial head injury. I believe that you are unique in your positive approach to your recovery, your dedication to sharing your experience, and your commitment to helping and motivating others to overcome their own life obstacles and adversity. I deeply and sincerely admire your efforts and your positive attitude in dealing with a truly difficult and challenging personal experience so that they can benefit from your experience, wisdom, and wit. Although we sometimes are witness to events that are miraculous, sometime the real miracles are people like you.” -Dr. Andrew G. Lee, MD

In this episode, you will learn:

✔︎How a Traumatic Brain Injury can happen (statistics) and Bridgid Ruden’s Story.

✔︎ Who was Bridgid Ruden before the accident and how she used pure determination to re-build her brain and life after her accident on May 24, 2008.

✔︎ What her CT brain scans showed after the injury that led to 4 surgeries.

✔︎How Bridgid rebuilt her brain and life with exercise, nutrition, art, music therapy and laughter.

I came to meet Brigid Ruden when she reached out to me through our website[iii] to share her story, and at the time her email came in, I was in the middle of writing the review of Dr. Daniel Amen’s book, The End of Mental Illness on EPISODE #128 where we spoke about Traumatic Brain Injury as one of the brain risk factors of head trauma that Dr. Amen considers to be “the silent epidemic that underlies mental illness.” When I saw her email, I was reading it quickly, and saw the following words-severe traumatic brain injury survivor, healing, education, miracles, author, speaker and reiki therapist, and that’s all I needed to see. It’s not often that you see severe traumatic brain injury survivor and author in the same paragraph. Writing a book has to be the most daunting task, requiring brain focus, and here was someone who had survived a severe brain injury with a book about it. I was amazed, curious to learn more and emailed her back immediately.

The rest is history. I can’t wait for you to meet this woman whose determination to heal herself has opened her to a whole new life’s purpose.

Just to review, we did cover the statistics behind head trauma on episode #128 with a review of Dr. Daniel Amen’s “The End of Mental Illness” book where he called Head Trauma: “The silent epidemic that underlies many mental illnesses.”

(Dr. Amen). According to the CDC, “more than 2 million new head injuries occur in the US every year” ranging from falls, to motor vehicle collisions, to sports injuries and Dr. Amen treats many of these injuries at his clinics across the country, saying that his database of “tens of thousands of patients, 40% had a significant brain injury before they came to see us.”[iv]

 

Here’s Brigid Ruden!

Welcome Brigid. Thank you so much for reaching out to me with your story. It was timely and I’m so glad to have this opportunity to speak with you directly.

Q1: Brigid, I have just completed an episode[v] where I reviewed Dr. Daniel Amen’s book, The End of Mental Illness and one of the brain risk factors he outlines is Head Trauma that he describes as “The silent epidemic that underlies many mental illnesses.” Can you share the statistics that you’ve learned about the leading causes of Traumatic Brain Injury and why do you think the police officer that found you after your fall thought you had just a mild concussion?

Q2: To help others who might have someone in their life recovering from a TBI, can you take us through how serious your fall was from your first CT Scans, to your 2nd CT Scans, to your 4th surgery, and what happened to you after this?

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Q3: Your story is a true story of resilience. Can you explain how you re-built your brain using the power of exercise, the value of nutrition, art and music therapy and reiki?

Q4: What helped to motivate you along your path to healing?

Q5: I know that documenting your life story in your book was not easy. I’m in the beginning stages of my third book and it requires more brain power than I’ve got on most days. How did you write your book while still healing to help others to develop and redefine themselves?

Q6: What vision do you have with your story? How do you want to help others who might be stuck in the recovery process?

Brigid, I want to thank you very much for taking the time to share your story. For those who want to learn more about you, they can go to your website at www.bridgidruden.com  or find your book Discovering My Life’s Purpose on Amazon.

Brigid, I want to thank you very much for taking the time to share your story. For those who want to learn more about you, they can go to your website at https://www.bridgidruden.com/ and can you explain the services that you offer there? 

RESOURCES:

All slides in the YouTube interview were from I Believe in the Power of Believing Movie Published on YouTube November 2, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZsa3mKAboE&t=607s

Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #88 with Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg, M.D. on Demystifying the Human Brain “Neurotheology, Spect Scans, and the Aging Brain” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/neuroscientist-andrew-newberg-md-on-neurotheology-spect-scans-and-the-aging-brain/

REFERENCES:

[i] https://www.bridgidruden.com/

[ii] Discovering My Life’s Purpose: From Tragedy to Triumph by Brigid Ruden Published September 19, 2016  https://www.amazon.com/Discovering-My-Lifes-Purpose-Tragedy/dp/1681971992/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=bridgid+ruden&qid=1603334667&sr=8-1

[iii] https://www.achieveit360.com/contact-us/

[iv] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159 Location 4574

[v] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning EPISODE #128 with a review of Dr. Daniel Amen’s “The End of Mental Illness: Book https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/review-of-dr-daniel-amens-the-end-of-mental-illness-6-steps-for-improved-brain-and-mental-health/

Brain Fact Friday “Using Neuroscience to Lessen the Impact of COVID-19 on Learning”

Brain Fact Friday “Using Neuroscience to Lessen the Impact of COVID-19 on Learning”

May 7, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #129.

If you are listening on iTunes, click here to see the images.

In this episode, you will learn how to lessen the impact that COVID-19 has had on our mental health, well-being and learning by understanding:

✔︎ What brain research can teach us about new ways to position learning for our students.

✔︎ Tips to re-build our student’s brains after the impact of the Global Pandemic.

✔︎ The importance of motivation, learning and the brain.

✔︎ Why neuroplasticity is the most important change in the understanding of our brain in the past 400 years. (Norman Doidge, MD).

Welcome back, I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

We also know that “mental health is brain health”[i] and that research demonstrates that “students who receive social, emotional and mental health support achieve better academically. School climate, classroom behavior, on-task learning, and students' sense of connectedness and well-being all improve as well”[ii]   

As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s clear that mental health disorders are a worldwide concern, magnified with the effects of the Global Pandemic. Here in the United States, 4 in 10 adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder…up from 1 in 10 adults who reported these symptoms from January-June 2019”[iii] before the Pandemic, and we know that “young adults are already at risk for poor mental health”[iv] but these statistics, along with some comments from some of the educators I speak with often got me wondering “What will be the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on the mental health of our students in our classrooms, let alone the havoc it’s created in the workforce.”

Since leaving the corporate world in 2012, I have been focused on creating content to help students and educators implement social and emotional skills, character education, practical neuroscience and leadership,[v] with a focus on well-being, but the recent changes in our world have got me thinking:

  • What are the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on our students’ well-being?
  • How has wearing a mask every day impacted their self-image, their self-esteem, and confidence levels?
  • What will happen to those students who struggle (or are still struggling) with Distance Learning?
  • What are some solutions to these questions that we can implement to bridge the gap that was created with this Global Pandemic?

I don’t think I’ll be able to solve everything here in this episode but it’s a starting point. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you with what issues you are facing in your schools and workplaces in different parts of the world, a year after the global pandemic.

These questions bring us to this week’s brain fact Friday, and a reminder from our last episode where we reviewed Dr. Daniel Amen’s book, The End of Mental Illness, that we are not stuck with the brain we have. We can change our brain and change our results. Whatever impact the Global Pandemic has had on our student’s social, emotional and cognitive thinking in our schools, or on those in the workplace, I strongly believe that this impact will not last forever, especially with the application of brain science to guide us through this time.

For this week’s Brain Fact Friday

DID YOU KNOW THAT:

“Nature has given us a brain that survives in a changing world by changing itself?” –Dr. Norman Doidge, a Canadian distinguished scientist, medical doctor, a psychiatrist on the faculty of the University of Toronto and Columbia University in New York, and the author of The Brain That Changes Itself[vi] (that has sold over 1 million copies) and The Brain’s Way of Healing[vii] said that.

Dr. Norman Doidge is one of the researchers who put Neuroplasticity on the map (meaning that neurons, the building blocks of the brain) are changeable (plastic) which means that our brains “can change their structure and function through mental experience alone” and he believes this to be “the most important change in the understanding of our brain in 400 years.”[viii]

How Can this Idea of Neuroplasticity Help Us in Today’s Classrooms?

Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain That Changes Itself is full of case studies of people who have experienced chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease, TBI, autism, ADHD, and even Blindness, train new parts of their brain with focused thought and movement alone.  If our neural pathways can be re-wired and strengthened in these case studies in this book, as well as in The Brain’s Way of Healing, (his most recent book) how can we use this information in today’s classrooms to help with our student’s well-being? Understanding how our brain’s works is a crucial next step for accelerating learning in our post-pandemic classrooms, with a goal of lessening the learning loss that may have occurred in the past year.

3 TIPS TO ACCELERATE LEARNING IN TODAY’S CLASSROOMS:

  1. Think of New Ways to Position Learning: With the Brain in Mind

Chapter 2 of The Brain That Changes Itself features a fascinating story about a woman named Barbara Arrowsmith who was born with learning challenges. Tests to her brain revealed that she had extremely strong areas with her audio and visual centers, but her spatial reasoning was weak.  Barbara was determined to find ways to improve her learning and found a study by Mark Rosenzweig[ix] using rats that helped her to understand the neuroplastic nature of her own brain.

This study showed that rats in a stimulating environment had “an increase in neurotransmitters, a heavier brain, and more blood flow to the brain”[x]  Once Barbara saw that the rats could change their brain, she began a series of mental exercises to help her to strengthen the areas of her own brain that were weak and with time, she brought her deficiencies back up to a normal level. There’s more to the story, but I found it fascinating that Barbara Arrowsmith was able to overcome her learning challenges using mental exercises and strengthened the parts of her brain that were weak. She later opened the Arrowsmith School in Toronto[xi], where she used many of the techniques, she used on herself, with her students. With this case study in mind, can you think of ways could you use Barbara’s story to help students in your classroom?

IMPLEMENTING THIS IDEA IN THE CLASSROOM:

Whatever challenges your students have faced the past year, remember that our student’s brains are resilient and with practice, repetition, and a stimulating environment, they will continue to learn and make academic gains like Barbara did.

I’ll learn more from Barbara and the school she has built, but it’s clear that many students would benefit from knowing what areas of their brain need more work to identify these weak links. This is exactly why looking at your brain is so powerful instead with instruction that just repeats the same thing over again, missing an opportunity to target learning and instruction.

  1. Strengthening Neural Pathways in the Brain: Priming the Brain to Learn

We know that Mark Rosenzweig’s rat experiments inspired Barbara to improve her learning, but they also taught her that “animals raised in enriched environments—surrounded by other animals, objects to explore, toys to roll, ladders to climb, and running wheels—learn better than genetically identical animals that have been reared in impoverished environments.”[xii]

Our learning environment matters our brains will grow in the right environment. Doidge mentioned in postmortem examinations, “it was shown that education increases the number of branches among neurons. An increased number of branches drives the neurons further apart, leading to an increase in the volume and thickness of the brain.”[xiii] Which brings us to the question, “Is a bigger brain better?” and a Stanford neuroscientist would say that “some studies claim the answer is yes” to this question.[xiv]

IMPLEMENTING THIS IDEA IN THE CLASSROOM:

This has been a challenging one this year, with many students still using distance learning[xv], and it’s not easy to have control over your students’ learning environments, when many students are doing the best that they can, with their individual circumstances. Take a look at what the dendrites in the brain look like without stimulation vs stimulation, and most teachers I know get excited about this concept. Our students brains have been impacted in the classroom, and when they leave, they will continue to grow and expand from the lesson that you have taught them. Their brains will expand, and yes, you helped to build a stronger, smarter brain.

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  1. The Importance of Motivation:

We did cover the importance of motivation in the workplace on episode #127 “How Our Emotions Impact Learning, Memory and the Brain”[xvi] with a reminder that the motivation network of the brain is driven by your instinct and curiosity which is one of Jaak Panksepp’s Core Emotions (Panksepp was an Estonian neuroscientist who mapped out 7 emotional circuits in the mammalian brain (the hindbrain) with play being one of them.

Panksepp identified another emotion called SEEKING that keeps us moving forward, engaged in new and interesting activities and work throughout our lifetime. If you think your students have lost motivation for their work, it’s time to look or like Panksepp would say, SEEK something that their brain will find new, and interesting, that will bring them JOY. This will engage them at the brain level.

Doidge found that “when animals were motivated to learn, the brain responds plastically” and stimulating the brain makes it grow in almost every conceivable way.

IMPLEMENTING THIS IDEA IN THE CLASSROOM:

Keeping the focus on the joy of learning in difficult times will allow our students’ brains to do what they do naturally—learn and grow. Making sure our students and children at home are motivated to learn is the first step in engaging them at the brain level.

Reviewing our brain fact for the week “Nature has given us a brain that survives in a changing world by changing itself” makes me think of the possibility that exists within each of us. I know this past year has revealed many changes for all of us, all over the world, but the science clearly says that our brain has the ability to survive in an ever-changing world.

Next week I will be speaking with a TBI survivor who has rebuilt her brain to create an incredible life, helping others to do the same. See you next week, and I hope this brain fact has given you some new ideas to look at our students, colleagues or families, and see the power behind neuroplasticity, and the ability for our brain to adapt and change on its own…which I would agree with Doidge to be the most important change in the understanding of our brain in 400 years.

See you next week!

Contact Andrea Samadi andrea@achieveit360.com or via Twitter https://twitter.com/andreasamadi or LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/samadi/

REFERENCES:

[i] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159

[ii] School-Based Mental Health Services: Improving Student Learning and Well-Being  https://www.nasponline.org/

[iii] The implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use Published by Nirmita Panchal, Rabah Kamal, Cynthia Cox, and Rachel Garfield Feb. 10, 2021 https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

[iv] IBID

[v] Andrea Samadi’s Programs and Services https://www.achieveit360.com/

[vi] The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge Dec. 18, 2007 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2c5aTlq3nYI

[vii] Dr. Norman Doidge The Brain’s Way of Healing Jan. 26, 2016 https://www.amazon.com/Brains-Way-Healing-Discoveries-Neuroplasticity/dp/014312837X/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+brain%27s+way+of+healing&qid=1620322327&s=books&sr=1-1

[viii] Dr. Norman Doidge | The Power of Thought Published on YouTube Feb. 15, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2c5aTlq3nYI

[ix] Animal research on neuroplasticity (Rosenzweig and Bennett, 1961) https://www.themantic-education.com/ibpsych/2018/12/10/key-study-animal-research-on-neuroplasticity-rosenzweig-and-bennett-1961/

[x] The Brain That Changes Itself Part 1 Published on YouTube Jan. 5, 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gI1BT7E58WU

[xi] https://arrowsmithschool.org/toronto/

[xii] he Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge Dec. 18, 2007 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2c5aTlq3nYI location 873

[xiii] The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge Dec. 18, 2007 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2c5aTlq3nYI location 888

[xiv] Ask a Neuroscientist: Does a bigger brain make you smarter? May 24, 2014 by Kendra Lechtenberg https://neuroscience.stanford.edu/news/ask-neuroscientist-does-bigger-brain-make-you-smarter

[xv] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #77 with University Professors and Authors Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey on “Delivering High Quality Distance Learning” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/university-professors-and-authors-doug-fisher-and-nancy-frey-on-developing-and-delivering-high-quality-distance-learning-for-students/

[xvi] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #127 “How Our Emotions Impact Learning, Memory and the Brain” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/brain-fact-friday-how-emotions-impact-learning-memory-and-the-brain/

Review of Dr. Daniel Amen’s “The End of Mental Illness” 6 Steps for Improved Brain Function and Mental Health

Review of Dr. Daniel Amen’s “The End of Mental Illness” 6 Steps for Improved Brain Function and Mental Health

May 5, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for episode #128 with a review of Dr. Daniel Amen’s book, The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More.[i]  

If you are listening on iTunes, click here to see the images. 

Welcome back, I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

Since May is Mental Health Awareness month, and every 14 minutes, someone in the country commits suicide, and it’s the 2nd leading cause of death for young people, I thought it was important to cover the one person, the leading expert on this topic, who has a goal to eliminate the stigma around mental illness with the understanding of brain health, and that’s with the world-renowned psychiatrist, brain disorder specialist, New York Times best-selling author and director of Amen Clinics, Dr. Daniel Amen.

We’ve had his daughter on the podcast, Chloe Amen, for episode #11[ii] with the book that she helped Dr. Amen to write, Change your Brain, Change Your Grades and we have definitely asked Dr. Amen and his wife Tana to join us on the podcast. We understand that his schedule is tight between running Amen Clinics[iii], The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast[iv], and making television appearances, like his recent episode with Dr. Oz[v], but we are still working with this with his staff and his schedule with the hope that we can get him on, to give my husband and I a quick overview of our brain scans, and hopefully shed some light on why a brain scan can change your life for those listening.

Visiting Dr. Amen’s Costa Mesa clinic was eye-opening, especially from the point of view of two people who didn’t have any obvious symptoms, just to gain more awareness into our health and well-being. It was a process that I think everyone could gain awareness from, whether you are having symptoms that you would like to dive deeper into, or not.  If you haven’t yet seen the 3-part series on where I outline what exactly a spect image brain scans, and how it can change your life, you can listen to it here.[vi]

For those who are listening that might be interested like we were in visiting his offices, it’s a simple process. Just go to www.AmenClinics.com  and schedule a call with their offices to help you to find the best location to visit (in the US) and the best solution for you. 

There’s no doubt that Dr. Amen is disrupting psychiatry with his brain scans, and the evidence is there on the wall at his clinics. You will see in plain view as you walk to his office, the famous studies he’s conducted. Dr. Amen has published “more than 70 peer-reviewed scientific articles, including some of the largest brain imaging studies ever done…if you type in ‘brain spect’ in the National Library of Medicine’s website www.pubmed.gov it will return more than 14,000 scientific abstracts.”[vii]

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Dr. Amen was the “principal investigator on the first and largest brain imaging and rehabilitation study on active and retired NFL players, showing high levels of damage, but also the possibility of recovery for many, using the principles in his book…Dr. Amen was also a consultant on the 2015 movie Concussion starring Will Smith”[viii]

Since this information is so valuable,  I wanted to cover the highlights of his book, The End of Mental Illness that I know we could all benefit from reading. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know someone who is impacted in some way with their mental health, and Dr. Amen says it pretty clearly that “most of us will have a mental health issue in our lifetime—and that “normal” is a myth..that 51% of us will have a mental health issue (post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, addiction, an eating disorder)”[ix] showing me that it’s more normal to have a problem, than not.

When you pick up your copy of this book, (even if you aren’t ready to buy a copy, you can get a free sample on Amazon using the Kindle version) and just scan through the leaders in the health and wellness industry in the beginning.

You’ll see Dr. David Perlmutter who we’ve mentioned often on this podcast, with his Alzheimer’s: The Science of Prevention Series,[x] Mark Hyman[xi], who appeared in Dr. Perlmutter’s series, Dr. Andrew Newberg[xii], director of research at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Thomas Jefferson University, who we had on the podcast for EPISODE #88[xiii] and many other well-known names from the sports industry, medicine, and education.

In the first few pages of this book, Dr. Amen poses the question, “What if mental health was brain health?” which brings us back to our goal with this podcast, to bridge the gap that exists in our schools and workplaces that begins with an understanding of our brain.

Part 1 of the book gives a history of mental health over the years, with some tips for brain health that can change your life. You will see some SPECT image scans and case studies and begin to see how some common brain health issues like depression, anxiety, TBI, substance abuse, or Alzheimer’s Disease show up in the brain vs a healthy brain scan image.

Part 2 of the book explains the BRIGHT MINDS acronym which is a guide for well-being with the brain in mind. We will cover the BRIGHT part on this episode.

Part 3 of the book offers strategies that can be used in schools and the workplace to end mental illness with a focus on brain health.

We believe that well-being is the key to achievement and that an understanding of our brain health is behind the success our students will experience in the classroom, and then take with them for future success in the workplace.

There’s no better place to learn about the brain, health, and well-being, than Dr. Amen. For this episode, if you would like to improve your mood, energy, focus and sleep, I’ll be using the acronym that Dr. Amen uses, (BRIGHT MINDS) with six tips to help us to improve brain health and function. This book also has an online class you can access for free on YouTube.[xiv]

You can learn more about the acronym BRIGHT MINDS in Part 2 of The End of Mental Illness with the idea that in order to have a healthy brain, you must have a healthy mind.

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Dr. Amen mentions at the start of the book that we want to create as much “brain reserve” as we can as we age “since the more brain reserve you have, the more resilient you are and the better your brain can handle the aging process to keep mental health disorders at bay.”[xv]

Although we have all been exposed to stressors to our brain in our lifetime, whether we have had an injury or not, we all have had some of our brain reserve depleted from our day-to-day life experience.  Here are six tips and strategies that are a good starting point when looking at our brain/mind health.

6 TIPS FOR IMPROVED BRAIN HEALTH

  1. B- Blood Flow: “If your brain doesn't get enough blood flow its function will be compromised”[xvi] so Dr. Amen believes “the number one strategy to support your brain and mental health is to protect, nurture, and optimize your heart and blood vessels”[xvii] and exercise pumps blood to the brain.

DID YOU KNOW THAT “Blood vessels age, not your brain cells? Keep blood vessels healthy so blood flows to your brain.”[xviii]

BRAIN TIP:

Keep your blood vessels healthy with moderate exercise 5 days/week and weight training 3 times/week.  I know we all have heard how important exercise is for our health, it’s one of the top 5 health staples we have been covering on the podcast, but have you thought about it from this point of view? Keeping our heart healthy, keeps our blood vessels healthy, and helps blood flow to our brain. When you follow Dr. Amen’s work, you will quickly learn how important blood flow is to the brain. When looking at a brain scan with holes, the hole you see represent a 45% drop in blood flow to that area and it’s important to understand ways to increase blood flow to your brain (like with exercise and diet) as well as what lowers blood flow in your brain (more than 2 cups of caffeine/day, smoking, lack of sleep, excessive alcohol use).[xix]

  1. R: Retirement/Aging: “When your brain stops learning, your brain starts dying.”[xx]

DID YOU KNOW: “That negative thoughts release chemicals in your brain that make you feel bad?”[xxi] It’s important to always be learning something new to keep the brain active, growing, and healthy and that we hold a positive mindset.

BRAIN TIP:

It’s important to find activities that we enjoy keeping us learning and growing and staying positive as we age. What I think is interesting is that activities we might have enjoyed doing 10 years ago, might have changed, so be open to trying something new, since your brain loves novelty and novelty makes us happy.[xxii] The more connected we are to what makes us happy, the more we can continue to contribute to the world, helping others and continue our lives with a sense of purpose.

  1. I: Inflammation: “Which is your body’s process of fighting against things that harm it, such as infections, injuries and toxins, in an attempt to heal itself. When something damages your cells, your body releases chemicals that trigger a response from your immune system.”[xxiii] Amen explains that the word inflammation comes from “the Latin word inflammare, meaning to set on fire”[xxiv]

DID YOU KNOW “That a poor, inflammatory diet leads to less energy production in the brain?” (Ari Whitten, The New Science of Energy)[xxv] Dr. Amen explains that “Just as it can ravage your body, it can also damage your brain and mind. It’s been associated with a wide range of neurological and psychiatric illnesses including depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease.”[xxvi]

BRAIN TIP: Keep your gut microbiome healthy, to maintain good brain health. We covered this topic on episode #93 with Dr. Vuyisich[xxvii] and it’s important to understand what creates an imbalance in our gut microbiome (stress, excessive alcohol, artificial sweeteners, and certain medications) while adding probiotics, being careful about taking antibiotics, and taking Omega-3 fatty acids[xxviii], can all reduce inflammation and improve brain health.

  1. G: Genetics: “Your history is not your destiny.” (Dr. Amen). I loved the dedication to this book: To Alize and Amelie, Your history is not your destiny. Let’s end mental illness with your generation.” You will see this dedication after the reviews of this book in the beginning and if you don’t know the story, Alize and Amelie are Dr. Amen’s nieces (Alize co-wrote Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades with Chloe Amen) and they are the reason Dr. Amen wrote this book, with the goal in mind to show the world that we are not stuck with the brain we have. You can read the story on page 5 of the book and see how Dr. Amen used these brain strategies as a blueprint to change the brains of his nieces, but it’s such a moving story, that caught my attention for many different reasons, because it’s powerful to know that we can change our brain’s (structure and function) with these strategies.

DID YOU KNOW: “You are not stuck with the brain you have. You can make it better.” (Dr. Amen)

BRAIN TIP: Just because certain things run in your family, like some people really are genetically inclined to be overweight (Dr. Amen says he has to be careful of what he eats and when) “don’t believe your genes are your destiny.”[xxix]

Do you know what your genetic vulnerabilities are? I’m fully aware that depression runs in my family, so years ago, I put certain habits like exercise and healthy eating as priority, and it’s not something I even think about anymore. It became a healthy habit. When you can focus on brain health first, everything else will fall into place, and family history, or genetics can be changed.

  1. H: Head Trauma: “The silent epidemic that underlies many mental illnesses.”

(Dr. Amen). According to the CDC, “more than 2 million new head injuries occur in the US every year” ranging from falls, to motor vehicle collisions, to sports injuries and Dr. Amen treats many of these injuries at his clinics across the country, saying that his database of “tens of thousands of patients, 40% had a significant brain injury before they came to see us.”[xxx]

DID YOU KNOW: That your brain is soft like butter or tofu, and you don’t need to have lost consciousness to have injured it? Have you ever “fallen out of a tree, fallen off a horse, dove into a shallow pool, had a whiplash accident, hit your head on a ball, the ground, or someone else’s helmet in sports?”[xxxi]   I didn’t think that the patten of a TBI would show up on my brain scan, but it did, and I’m sure it was from when I hit my head on a pool deck during a triathlon, over 20 years ago.

BRAIN TIP:

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a simple, noninvasive treatment that many athletes have been using for years to help with the healing and reduce inflammation in the brain.[xxxii] This was suggested for me with the pattern of a TBI showing with my brain scan. I have not had a session yet, mostly because I don’t have symptoms that bother me but I would look into this if I did.

  1. T: Toxins: “Toxins are one of the major causes of brain/mental health issues…and can increase the risk of depression, suicide, ADD/ADHD, learning problems, memory problems, brain fog, and temper outbursts.”[xxxiii]

I’M SURE YOU ALL KNOW: “That every day we are exposed to a host of chemicals, pesticides, fumes, and products that poison the human brain?”[xxxiv] Dr. Amen reminds us that we can’t avoid some of these toxins, but there’s a lot we can do to limit our exposure to them and help to detoxify our homes, workspaces and environment.

BRAIN TIP: If your think you could be sharper,  improve your focus, or memory, the first place to look, is at what you are putting into your body that could be harming your brain.  There’s the obvious drugs and alcohol category, but some other areas to consider looking at are mold exposure, cleaning supplies, and what you are putting on your body (lotion/makeup) that could contain harmful chemicals that can hurt your brain. Learn to read labels and identify chemicals and preservatives we should avoid like “potassium bromate (carcinogenic), BHA, BHT (linked to tumors), Sodium benzoate (may damage DNA), Sodium nitrate (linked to Cancer), Tartrazine dye (makes cheese yellow) linked to asthma, MSG (linked to seizures and heart issues), Red Dye #40, and artificial sweeteners (aspartame-blue packets) and saccharin (pink packets) both linked to obesity. I know that in the past 10 years, this area has improved with many people switching to green cleaning supplies, and I know that many students themselves know what foods have red dye #40 in them, as their parents tell them, and that some countries are far more advanced than others, but you can still look around and see toxins everywhere and just be mindful of what they do to our brain.

REVIEW:

To close out the review of Dr. Amen’s book, The End of Mental Illness, there’s a lot that we can all do, just by reviewing his BRIGHT MINDS Tips.

  1. Improve blood flow to our brain with exercise.
  2. Keep learning as we age and find strategies to hold a positive daily mindset.
  3. Take supplements to keep our gut microbiome healthy as a poor diet can cause less energy production in our brain.
  4. Your history is not your destiny. Know your genetic vulnerabilities but also that you are not stuck with the brain you have. You can change your brain with new habits that create new results.
  5. Your brain is soft like butter or tofu. Protect it by wearing a helmet playing sports.
  6. Toxins surround us every day. Do what we can to reduce exposure to chemicals we know harm our brains.

If we can start with these six steps to prioritizing our brain health, we will be miles ahead with our productivity and results. When we can get our brain health right, everything else in our life will improve.  I highly suggest reading this book and taking the 6-week online course that goes with it, as there are many resources that can help guide you towards having a better brain and life. It really doesn’t take a lot to make small improvements that will yield huge results.

To close out this episode, I wanted to list the top brain tips I have learned from studying Dr. Amen to give some hope during Mental Health Awareness Month.  If you want to learn more about Amen Clinics, go to their website www.amenclinics.com and you can click on the conditions tab to search for a list of the brain disorders they treat, with valuable information.

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Hope you have a wonderful week! See you for Brain Fact Friday.

REFERENCES:

[i] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159

[ii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning EPISODE #11 with Chloe Amen on “Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades” https://www.achieveit360.com/15-year-old-chloe-amen-reveals-strategies-on-how-to-change-your-brain-change-your-grades/

[iii] https://www.amenclinics.com/

[iv] https://www.amenclinics.com/podcast/

[v] Dr. Amen on The Dr. Oz Show with his Memory Rescue Plan https://www.doctoroz.com/article/dr-daniel-amens-memory-rescue-plan

[vi] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #82 “How a SPECT Image Brain Scan Can Change Your Brain and Life” PART 1 with Doug Sutton https://www.achieveit360.com/how-a-brain-scan-changed-my-brain-and-life-with-doug-sutton/

Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPSIODE #83 with Andrea Samadi on “What is a SPECT Brain Scan and How Can it Change Your Life?” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/how-exactly-can-a-spect-imaging-brain-scan-change-your-life-with-andrea-samadi-part-2/

Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #84 “How a SPECT Image Brain Scan Can Change Your Life” PART 3 with Andrea Samadi https://www.achieveit360.com/how-a-spect-scan-can-change-your-life-part-3-with-andrea-samadi/

[vii] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159 Location 547

[viii] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159 Location 532

[ix] Dr. Amen, Brain Thrive by 25 Online Course http://brainthriveby25.com/

[x] Dr. David Perlmutter’s Alzheimer’s: The Science of Prevention Series  https://www.drperlmutter.com/alzheimers-the-science-of-prevention-2020-air-dates/

[xi] https://drhyman.com/

[xii] http://www.andrewnewberg.com/

[xiii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #88 with Dr. Andrew Newberg https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/neuroscientist-andrew-newberg-md-on-neurotheology-spect-scans-and-the-aging-brain/

[xiv] The End of Mental Illness 6 Week Online Class Published on YouTube Jan. 21, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-8CiGDWYXQ

[xv] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159 Location 2034

[xvi] Dr. Amen on The Dr. Oz Show https://www.doctoroz.com/article/dr-daniel-amens-memory-rescue-plan

[xvii] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159 Location 2755

[xviii] Tana and Daniel Amen on The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast https://brainwarriorswaypodcast.com/its-not-your-brain-cells-that-age-its-your-blood-vessels

[xix] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159 Location 2787

[xx] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159 Location 3256

[xxi] The End of Mental Illness 6 Week Online Class Published on YouTube Jan. 21, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-8CiGDWYXQ (lesson 5)

[xxii] The Importance of Novelty Sept. 5, 2019 by Nicole Dean https://brainworldmagazine.com/the-importance-of-novelty/

[xxiii] Understanding and Managing Chronic Inflammation Written by Adrienne Santos-Longhurst July 27, 2018 https://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-inflammation

[xxiv] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159 Location 3714

[xxv] Ari Whitten, The New Science of Energy from The Energy Blueprint https://theenergyblueprint.com/new-science-of-energy1/

[xxvi] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159 Location 3728

[xxvii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #93 with Dr. Momo Vuyisich on “Improving the Health of Your Microbiome, Preventing and Reversing Chronic Disease.” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/dr-momo-vuyisich-on-improving-the-health-of-your-microbiome-preventing-and-reversing-chronic-disease/

[xxviii] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159 Location 3967

[xxix] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159 Location 147

[xxx] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159 Location 4574

[xxxi] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159 Location 4642

[xxxii] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159 Location 110

[xxxiii] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159 Location 4881

[xxxiv] The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry and Helping Prevent or Reverse Mood and Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Addictions, PTSD, Psychosis, Personality Disorders and More by Dr. Daniel Amen  March 3, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/End-Mental-Illness-Neuroscience-Transforming/dp/1496438159 Location 4953

Brain Fact Friday “How Our Emotions Impact Learning, Memory and the Brain”

Brain Fact Friday “How Our Emotions Impact Learning, Memory and the Brain”

April 29, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #127 on Using Brain Network Theory to Understand How Emotions Impact Learning, Memory, and the Brain.

To see the images for this episode, click on this link, if you are listening on iTunes.

In this episode, you will learn:

✔︎ The how our emotions drive learning.

✔︎ How our memories form, and how to erase unwanted memories.

✔︎ The old way of looking at our brain (The Three Brains) vs (Brain Network Theory).

✔︎ Strategies to create balance in our brain in our classrooms and workplaces.

Welcome back, I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast for some time, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

We started Brain Fact Fridays last month to dive a bit deeper into some of top brain strategies we uncover in our interviews, or weekly episodes and from the feedback I have heard, these short episodes are helpful for learning about the brain in quick, easy to digest lessons, so we will continue with Brain Fact Fridays and I do appreciate the feedback!

This past weekend, I was asked to be interviewed by Ti-Fen Pan, the host of the Compass Teachers Podcast,[i] from Taiwan. She interviews people around the globe on the most current educational topics, tactics, and resources, and she sent me a list of incredible questions that really made me think.  I love taking a break from being the person doing the interviews, and tune into other people’s shows, since I always want to learn something new, that I can share, and Ti-Fen really got me thinking with her podcast questions.

How Do Our Emotions Drive Learning?

Her first question to me was “what has neuroscience discovered about the relationship with our emotions and learning” and I had to think back to episode #100[ii] with Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, who is a Professor of Education, Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Southern California and Director of the USC Center for Affective Neuroscience, Development, Learning and Education (CANDLE Center).[iii]  Mary Helen is an expert on learning and the brain, especially when it comes to emotions and learning. She wrote the book Emotions, Learning and the Brain,[iv] where she talks about how “We feel, therefore we learn”[v] in Part 1 of her book and this topic is one of her most powerful YouTube publications.  She is someone who I know I could spend the rest of my life following and I would learn something new from her every day. She studies the psychological and neurobiological development of emotion and self-awareness, and connections to social, cognitive, and moral development in educational settings.

I opened up her book, and if you have come from the field of education, you will recognize Howard Gardner, an American psychologist best known for his theory of multiple intelligences who wrote her foreword reminding us that “30 years ago, we had no idea that one could study human emotions that emerge slowly over time—such as admiration and awe—and compare them psychologically and neurobiologically with emotions that emerge more quickly like surprise or fear.” (page 80. Emotions, Learning and the Brain) This is a whole other topic, and I will be interviewing Mike Rousell[vi] on what the element of surprise does to our brain this summer when his book The Power of Surprise comes out, but Gardner explains that even if we are not scientists ourselves, most of us are intrigued to learn these new scientific findings.  I couldn’t agree more, and with the interest that these episodes are creating, I think you would agree with me also. This thought from Howard Gardner, along with Ti- Fen’s podcast questions, made me want to put some serious thought into what exactly it is that motivates us to learn something new, and what is it that helps us to remember what we’ve learned.

For this week’s Brain Fact Friday

BRAIN FACT 1: Did you know that emotions help memories form and stick?

I could spend the next year diving deep into this brain fact, and we can learn from Jaak Panksepp[vii]  a neuroscientist who concluded that humans have seven networks of emotion in the brain that begin with seeking—we are always looking for something new, the brain releases dopamine when it finds it, which awakens our perception of strong positive and negative emotions.

“Emotions form a critical piece of how, what, when, and why people think, remember and learn Mary Helen reminds us (page 146 Emotions, Learning and the Brain) she says “it is literally neurobiologically impossible to build memories, engage complex thoughts, or make meaningful decision without emotion.”

We know that humans are emotional and social beings, (hence the name of this podcast, Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning) and these skills are finally being recognized as crucial in our schools and workplaces, in addition to academic and cognitive development, or the core skills your brain uses to think, read, remember, reason, and pay attention.

Research shows that “emotion has a substantial influence on the cognitive processes in humans including perception, attention, learning, memory, reasoning and problem solving.”[viii]

This happens because our amygdala “is activated by emotional events. The amygdala boosts memory encoding by enhancing attention and perception and can help memory retention by triggering the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, to boost arousal.”[ix]

A New Way of Looking at Our Brain vs The Old Way

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When I think about the first few years I began to learn how the brain learns, from my first few sessions with my mentor, Mark Waldman, everyone was talking about the 3 parts of the brain, and how they interact with each other. I still think it’s important to understand these 3 parts of the brain, (especially the Limbic System, the emotional part of our brain where our amygdala sits) but it’s important to change how we think about our brain from this old way, where we would maybe draw the amygdala in the limbic area of the brain, and point to it in our presentations, saying, this is the part of our brain that activated while we are under stress and we experience “fight, flight or freeze.” You might have heard that when under stress, our executive functions (in the neocortex of our brain) begin to shut down, and students cannot learn and it’s difficult to complete meaningful work. You might have even heard this being called the amygdala hi-jack or that the amygdala was responsible for the “fight or flight” response, but there’s much more involved with this part of the brain than to just keep us safe and alive.

Brain Network Theory: Creating Balance in Our Brain

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Instead of thinking about just one part of our brain, or our amygdala and how it responds to stress and impacts our learning, or memory, or ability to work, I want to use Brain Network Theory to explore this a bit deeper. I did cover Brain Network Theory on episode #48[x] but here’s a review.

When looking at the brain, some people use fMRI scans, others use SPECT image scans, but I am sure you have seen these images that show how different parts of our brain light up when we are doing different things. You will no longer see studies that talk only about the individual parts of the brain—like the amygdala, or hippocampus, you will now see images that describe brain networks, nodes and connectivity. This is a fascinating discovery that comes to life with these images.

When thinking about our brain, learning, and memory, think about how our networks are all working together. You can see an image in the show notes created by Mark Waldman that shows the key networks in our brain.

 

Our Default Mode Network is the largest network in our brain--remember this image is just a map or metaphor to simplify the explanation of our brain networks to give you something to picture as you image your brain—not just the 3 parts of the brain in the first image, but how these networks interact with each other.  How these networks are all connected to our awareness with the star in the middle of the image and how these networks overlap each other. The DMN (or the I in the diagram for imagination)  contains our imagination processes like daydreaming, creative problem solving, and mind wandering and involves those thought processes that can include worry, doubts and fears that can stimulate our amygdala by sending a message to other parts of our brain that something important is going on that we should pay attention to. Our emotional state is governed by our amygdala which is “responsible for processing positive emotions like happiness, and negative ones like fear and anxiety”[xi]  and it’s important to find the equilibrium between our Amygdala, our Default Mode (Imagination) Network, and Salience (Stabilizing)  Network that is like the balancing part of our brain that thinks, weighs what’s important, and helps us to create the balance that we need.

Balancing Our Emotional Brain: To Help Memories Stick

Using Brain Network Theory as a tool to bring balance back to our brain, let’s imagine that our amygdala, Default Mode Network and Salience Network are playing a game of basketball. They all need to work together to create balance, to get the ball in the basket (a metaphor for whatever we are working on in our daily life).  When the amygdala suddenly trips,(like it would if it was telling you there’s something you need to pay attention to—good or bad) and the ball goes out of bounds, it can be like our amygdala processing our emotions and the rest of our brain needs to step in to bring the balance back. We’ve got to learn how to interrupt the emotion (it can be good or bad emotion) so you can bring the balance and focus back to your brain to continue learning. The more rapidly we can change between these 3 networks in our day, (imagine the amygdala, Default Mode Network and Salience Network passing a basketball back and forth to each other smoothly, and quickly that you can hear the ball snapping on each networks fingers) creating more well-being and productivity with this balancing act. This is exactly what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy does, but there are some simple ways to quickly bring balance back to your brain so you can gain control of your Central Execute Network and continue learning and make those memories stick.

The Brain in the Classroom

If emotions help memories form and stick, and the amygdala is the part of the brain that tells you to pay attention to something, and remember it, whether it’s good or bad, we want to do what we can to bring balance to our student’s brains in the classroom, or our brains in the workplace.

  1. Mindfulness in the Classroom: We have covered mindfulness on a few different episodes, starting with episode #25[xii] but this strategy is the most effective way to stimulate the insula and anterior cingulate in the brain (where our awareness lies) and brings back balance and well-being that have been documented in over 4,000 research studies. Mindfulness can be taught through breath work like box breathing[xiii] that’s a technique that’s a powerful tool for anyone to use to reduce stress. It’s used from “athletes to U.S. Navy Seals, police officers and nurses” and is simple for students to learn in the classroom, and hopefully take with them as a lifelong coping strategy.
  1. Taking Brain Breaks for Improved Creativity: when we are asking our students to give their focused attention, think about Brain Network Theory. Focus will cause brain fatigue, and too much of it depletes your brain of glucose and depletes you. Be sure to allow your students the time to shift between their Default Mode/ Imagination network, Central Executive (Thinking) Network and Salience (Stabilizing) Network so they can gain insights that are impossible during focused only times.  Allow them time to get up, rest their brain, walk around, go outside (if possible) and take short breaks every hour to keep students as productive as they can be.

 

  1. The Amygdala First Aid Station[xiv]: I first saw this idea with Dr. Lori Desautels[xv], who suggested an area for students to go in the classroom when they feel overwhelmed. Instead of causing a fight in the classroom, students get up and go to a designated area that has calming lotion or something like that to allow students to reset their brain. I’ve put a link to some ideas in the show notes like cups to have students share their mood for the day, stress balls, popsicle stick coping strategies and many other creative ideas to calm a stressed student.[xvi] I noticed when my children were home from school during the pandemic that my youngest daughter enjoyed getting up from her desk, to go and pet the cat, before going back to do her work. These short breaks gave her a brain break and reset her focus for her next work session. I know we can’t have cats in our classrooms, but I have seen fluffy pillows work just as well for students like my daughter who can tend to get overwhelmed with her work. Dr. Lori Desautels, an Assistant Professor at Butler University (whose been on our podcast a few times) mentioned that students enjoy learning about their brain and how they can use this knowledge to improve their behavior and focus. She said “when we teach students about the amygdala, the hippocampus, neuroplasticity, and prefrontal cortex, it gives the brain science. It objectifies their behavior.” Many of her undergraduate students said “they wish they would’ve known neuroscience in middle school because students think something is wrong with them when they exhibit negative behavior. When students understand the science behind it, it intrigues them and they’re challenged to change those hard-wired circuits.” If you really want to capture a student’s attention in the classroom, teaching them the basics of how their brain works, especially to help them to achieve their goals, this information will fascinate them.

Using the Brain in the Workplace for Improved Results

  1. Find Your Balance and Allow Creativity to Flow: The way to experience optimal health and well-being, that’s crucial for success in the workplace, is to create balance with your Default Mode (Imagination) Network, Central Executive (Thinking) Network and Salience (Stabilizing) Network. Notice when you are out of balance, or overly anxious--your Default Mode Network may be overly active, with worry, so learn to switch to a different brain network (since spending too much time with imagination can lead to ruminating thoughts) so switch to your Central Executive (thinking) Network, (get to work on something and notice there’s no time to worry). Work as long as you can, and then switch to your (stabilizing/values/social awareness) Network to bring back the give yourself a break. When we can give our brain breaks, it will allow for creative insights to flow during our imagination/resting states where we can have breakthroughs like the “20% time policy at Google, where the company’s engineers get a day a week to work on whatever they want”[xvii] to keep their creativity flowing.  See how you can replicate this process with your work.
  2. Tap into Your Motivation Network: Your motivation network is what gets you out of bed in the morning and pushes you to seek out anything that has a pleasurable reward. This circuit is located in the nucleus accumbens[xviii] of the brain and is driven by your instinct and curiosity that’s one of Jaak Panksepp’s Core Emotions (Panksepp was an Estonian neuroscientist who mapped out 7 emotional circuits in the mammalian brain (the hindbrain) with play being one of them. We went deep into the importance of having fun with our work on episode #27 with Friederike Fabritius[xix] on Achieving Peak Performance where she spoke about the importance of having fun with our work, bringing us to those higher levels of peak performance. Panksepp identified another emotion called SEEKING that keeps us moving forward, engaged in new and interesting activities and work throughout our lifetime. If you have lost motivation for your work, it’s time to look or like Panksepp would say, SEEK something that your brain will find new, and interesting, that will bring you JOY. This will engage you at the brain level.
  3. Listen to Your Second Brain: Your Gut Instinct Have you ever made a decision based upon your gut instinct? Neuroscience tells us “that this mind-gut connection is not just metaphorical. Our brain and gut are connected by an extensive network of neurons and a highway of chemicals and hormones that constantly provide feedback about how hungry we are, whether or not we’re experiencing stress” [xx] and many other important signals. You can strengthen your second brain with mindfulness, opening the door to one of the most powerful tools you can use to help you to become more self-aware and socially aware as you’ll begin to sense what others need and want. I once asked a business executive who was the last step in my interview process for this job I really wanted, after she offered me to position, I asked her “What made you choose me for the job?” I wanted to know what she would say, and the answer that came from this seasoned executive was not what I expected. She said “I went with my gut instinct” showing me of the power of using our second brain, or our gut, when making decisions in the workplace.

Now That Our Brain is Primed for Learning, How Do We Make Our Memories or Learning Stick?

We remember John Dunlosky focused on the importance of spaced repetition for memory formation on episode #37[xxi], (practicing a skill over and over again) and we know that memories aren’t reliable from episode #44[xxii] (that each time we recall something from our past, it changes) but what exactly is happening in the brain when we remember something?

Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux explains memory consolidation:

“Consolidation is what happens when a memory persists. When you have a memory, it goes into short term memory and If for some reason the memory isn’t consolidated, long term memory doesn’t occur. The conversion of short-term memory to long term memory is called consolidation. This process involves that the neurons in the brain that are forming the memory undergo protein synthesis. These proteins basically glue the memory together. Reconsolidation occurs when the memory that is fully consolidated is reactivated or retrieved, has to go through another phase of protein synthesis in order for that memory to persist into the future. If you block protein synthesis after retrieval, you prevent that storage process and disrupt the memory. This is important because each time we retrieve a memory, we have to update it.”[xxiii]

He simplifies this by saying—when we first meet someone, we have a memory of that experience.  When we meet that person again, we retrieve the first memory and whatever else we’ve learned about the person in the meantime are added to form the new memory. To not forget this memory, it has to be stored, and updated with what we remember from the past, with what we add to it in the present moment.

It’s not like watching a video of exactly what occurred the first time, which is the old view of how our memory works. What really happens is that “every time you take a new memory out, you must put it back in and this forms a new memory.”[xxiv]

Can We Forget Certain Memories?

LeDoux explains it is possible for people who had had a traumatic experience that they would like to forget to be given a substance that would “block the protein synthesis and prevent memories from forming which is called Reconsolidation Blocking and it doesn’t erase the memory, but just dampens the impact of the memory so it’s less troubling or arousing or troubling when it’s remembered later.”[xxv]

REVIEW OF THIS WEEK’S BRAIN FACT

BRAIN FACT 1: Did you know that emotions help memories form and stick?

This episode we went deep into where our emotions begin in our brain, with strategies to balance our brains using Brain Network Theory, in our classrooms and workplaces, so we can easily take in new information, and understand how we can retain it.  We know that “memories linked with strong emotions often become seared in the brain”[xxvi]  and we can even test this theory ourselves by thinking back to certain memories you might have in your life and see what you can remember about that event.

What do you remember about September 11th, 2001?

Do you remember anything about September 10th, 2001?

I couldn’t tell you a thing about Sept. 10th. Not what I ate for breakfast that day, or even much about the house I was living in at the time. But the day after, for some reason, everything seems crystal clear to me. I can see the television that I turned on while getting ready to watch the planes crash into the twin towers, can remember the sun coming in the windows, and even the shade the sunlight made on the ground in front of the television. The rest of that day is pretty clear as well, proving that emotions really do make memories stick.

I hope this episode has helped you to imagine our brains in a new light using Brain Network Theory, how we prime them for optimal learning, to ensure what we learn goes into our long-term memory, and then how to make these memories stick…if we want them to.

See you next week.

REFERENCES:

[i] The Compass Teachers Podcast with Ti-Fen Pan from Taiwan https://compassteacher.com/

[ii] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast Episode #100 with Mary Helen Immordino-Yang https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/professor-mary-helen-immordino-yang-on-the-neuroscience-of-social-and-emotional-learning/

[iii] Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, EdD https://candle.usc.edu/people/

[iv] Mary Helen Immordino Yang Emotions, Learning and the Brain (November 16, 2015) https://www.amazon.com/Emotions-Learning-Brain-Implications-Neuroscience/dp/0393709817

[v] Mary-Helen Immordino-Yang “We Feel, Therefore We Learn” Published on YouTube April 16, 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85BZRVE6M0o&t=338s

[vi] Mike Rousell, Ph.D.  The Power of Surprise: How Your Brain Secretly Changes Your Beliefs https://www.amazon.com/Power-Surprise-Secretly-Changes-Beliefs/dp/153815241X

[vii] Jaak Panksepp The Science of Emotions TEDxRanier Published on YouTube Jan. 13, 2014  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65e2qScV_K8

[viii] The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory Published August 24, 2017 Chai M Tyng, Hafeez U Amin, Mohammed N M Saad, Aamir S Malik  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5573739/

[ix] What Makes Memories Stronger? https://qbi.uq.edu.au/brain-basics/memory/what-makes-memories-stronger

[x] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #48 with Andrea Samadi on “Brain Network Theory” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/brain-network-theory-using-neuroscience-to-stay-productive-during-times-of-change-and-chaos/

[xi] A Delicate Balance Between Positive and Negative Emotion by Anne Trafton Oct. 17, 2016 https://bcs.mit.edu/news-events/news/delicate-balance-between-positive-and-negative-emotion

[xii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #25 with Mick Neustadt on “Mindfulness and Meditation” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/mindfulness-and-meditation-expert-mick-neustadt-on-how-meditation-and-mindfulness-changes-your-life-results-and-potential/

[xiii] What is box breathing? By Ana Gotter June 17, 2020 https://www.healthline.com/health/box-breathing

[xiv] https://www.pinterest.co.uk/kath6490/amygdala-first-aid-station/

[xv] Neuroscience Meet Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODES #16 and #56 https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/lori-desautels-and-michael-mcknight-on-the-future-of-educational-neuroscience-in-our-schools-and-communities/  

https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/educational-neuroscience-pioneer-dr-lori-desautels-on-her-new-book-about-connections-over-compliance-rewiring-our-perceptions-of-discipline/

[xvi] Amygdala First Aid Station https://www.pinterest.co.uk/kath6490/amygdala-first-aid-station/

[xvii] Your Brain at Work by Adam Waytz and Malia Mason August 2013 https://hbr.org/2013/07/your-brain-at-work

[xviii] Neurowisdom: The New Brain Science of Money, Happiness, and Success by Mark Robert Waldman and Chris Manning, Ph.D. (2017) https://www.amazon.com/NeuroWisdom-Brain-Science-Happiness-Success/dp/1682303055

[xix] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #27 with Friederike Fabritius on “Achieving Peak Performance” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/pioneer-in-the-field-of-neuroleadership-friederike-fabritius-on-the-recipe-for-achieving-peak-performance/

[xx] Gut Feelings-The “Second Brain” in our Gastrointestinal Systems by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg May 1, 2015 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-feelings-the-second-brain-in-our-gastrointestinal-systems-excerpt/

[xxi] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #37 with Professor John Dunlosky https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/kent-states-dr-john-dunlosky-on-improving-student-success-some-principles-from-cognitive-science/

[xxii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #44 “12 Mind-Boggling Brain Discoveries” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/andrea-samadis-12-mind-boggling-discoveries-about-the-brain/

[xxiii] What is Memory Consolidation and Reconsolidation? Joseph LeDoux Published on YouTube November 9, 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKiV3FNpXhk

[xxiv] IBID

[xxv] IBID

[xxvi] Why Are Memories Attached to Emotions So Strong? July 13, 2020 https://neurosciencenews.com/emotion-memory-16631/

Brain Fact Friday on “Building Resilience: A Pathway for Inner Peace, Well-Being and Happiness.”

Brain Fact Friday on “Building Resilience: A Pathway for Inner Peace, Well-Being and Happiness.”

April 23, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #126 on Building Resilience: A Pathway for Inner Peace, Well-Being and Happiness.

If you are listening to this episode on iTunes, click here to see the images in the show notes. 

This week’s Brain Fact Friday will take a closer look at resiliency, with some simple strategies that you can implement immediately, for improved results in your personal and professional life by accessing this powerful inner resource that will allow you to walk confidently, especially, on uneven ground.

Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a psychologist, senior fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley and New York Times best-selling author is so passionate about this topic, that he wrote an entire book on it, called Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength and Happiness.[i]

“If we are going to have lasting well-being in a changing world, we’ve got to be resilient. To be resilient, we’ve got to have inner resources.” (Rick Hanson, Talks at Google)[ii]

In Today’s Brain Fact Friday we will cover:

  • What does it mean to be resilient?
  • How can we build it in ourselves and others?
  • And how does it create a sense of well-being, an inner sense of peace and happiness?

Welcome back, I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast for some time, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

We started Brain Fact Fridays last month to dive a bit deeper into some of top brain strategies we uncover in our interviews, or weekly episodes and from the feedback I have heard, these short episodes are helpful for learning about the brain in quick, easy to digest lessons, so we will continue with Brain Fact Fridays and I do appreciate the feedback!

Getting back to today’s BRAIN FACT:

DID YOU KNOW:

That Mindfulness[iii] leaves a lasting impact on our brain (Rick Hanson) and when we practice mindfulness, we become more compassionate, resilient, and more skillful with others.

Rick Hanson quotes “If the mind is like a sailboat, growing inner resources is like strengthening and lengthening its keel. Then you can live more boldly.  Trusting you can explore and enjoy the deeper waters of life and handle any storms that come your way.”

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I first started to take a closer look at resiliency when I interviewed Horacio Sanchez on episode #74[iv] where Horacio, who named his company, Resiliency Inc[v] defined Resiliency as “a collection of protective risk factors that you have in your life.” He explains how there are some factors we are born with, and others come in through childhood, family, school, life events and social experiences.

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Horacio further explains that “if you have little risk, it takes less to be resilient. But—if you have a lot of risk, it takes a lot more protective factors to offset the scale.”  This is why two people can possibly respond in two completely different ways after a traumatic experience. One person walks away, and recovers quickly, while the other has a completely different outcome, and needs more assistance.

With resiliency, we can overcome adversity or difficulty and have good outcomes in our life, but you can see why not everyone is born with exactly the same protective factors needed, so we don’t all have the same levels of resiliency. Horacio mentioned that “25% of the population are naturally resilient” so his work focused on instilling resiliency in those who were not naturally resilient due to the number of risk factors associated to them.

This is what I love about this inner resource—that it can be instilled in others, or that we can build our own levels of resiliency, our own psychological strengths, that we can access at any time of the day, when we need it. And when we take the time and effort to do this, we will create lasting changes in our brain over time, as well as others who we instill with this valuable inner resource.

How can resiliency be instilled in ourselves and others? We all want resiliency for our own children, or those we work with or for ourselves. Here are some ideas to build this skill in ourselves and others with the idea that whenever we face a threat (whatever it might be that knocks you off course in life—the Pandemic, the loss of a job, worrying about losing your job, an illness) these strategies will help to provide coping mechanisms, and take away the feeling of helplessness that often accompanies a threat.

  1. APPLY PROTECTIVE FACTORS LIKE BUILDING AND MAINTAINING RELATIONSHIPS:

Horacio mentioned the work he has done over the years with applying protective factors (like teaching social and emotional skills, or involvement with a caring adult) with those children who had many risk factors, and explained that this took time, with many serious challenges along the way as the students he was working with had to learn the changes that take place over time. If we think about it, lasting change, at the brain level does time and effort, but well worth the results in the long run. He spoke about the fact it was clear that everyone needed help with building relationships, and this was a valuable lesson for everyone involved to build family harmony and stability. It’s a lesson we can all use.

 

  1. TUNE INTO A MEMORY OF GRIT: Angela Duckworth put this word on the map with her TED TALK[vi] Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and believes that “Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term-goals” (Duckworth et al., 2007). She believes that although people are born with grit, that it also develops through experience, just like resilience. I saw a powerful example of building resilience in students with Jemi Thompson’s Thriving YOUniversity’s[vii] facebook group. Jemi wrote “never forget that each student walking into our classroom has years of experience we know nothing about.” Students wrote these responses anonymously, and it reminded me of how much we can learn from our students, and children, or even our co-workers when we provide the opportunity to share.

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(Images from Jemi Thompson Thriving YOUniversity's Facebook Page for SEL Resources).

  1. MAINTAIN A MINDFULNESS PROGRAM: We know from our interview with Dr. Daniel Siegel[viii] of the powerful benefits of adding a mindfulness program to your daily practice. He mentions six science-backed benefits that can be seen in the brain:
  • Integration of structure and function of the brain (promotes well-being)
  • Reduction of the stress hormone, cortisol.
  • Enhancement of immune function.
  • Improvement of cardiovascular risk factors.
  • Reduction in inflammation via epigenetic changes.
  • Optimization of telomerase that slows aging.

Our brain fact for this week was That Mindfulness[ix] leaves a lasting impact on our brain (Rick Hanson) and when we practice mindfulness, we become more compassionate, resilient, and more skillful with others.  It’s just one of those pieces of research we can only believe as we begin a practice ourselves. There are a few Mindfulness programs I recommend, but the learning only occurs with action. If you want to learn more about the Mindfulness programs I use, I’ll list them in the resource section.

When we can take the time to look within for answers, this gives a sense of power or inner confidence, and then add deep breathing to this and we’ll be activating the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system that helps us to feel rested and grounded. It’s much easier to feel optimistic in the face of a threat when you have your body and mind working for you, not against you.

I hope you find this Brain Fact Friday useful! Let me know if you use any of these strategies in your schools or workplaces.

Have an incredible week, and see you next Friday!

RESOURCES:

Resilience: How Your Brain Helps You Bounce Back by Stephen Southwick, MD. June 4, 2020  https://brainworldmagazine.com/resilience-brain-helps-bounce-back/2/

Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #60 A Deep Dive into Dan Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness Meditation https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/the-science-behind-a-meditation-practice-with-a-deep-dive-into-dr-dan-siegel-s-wheel-of-awareness/

Daniel Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness https://www.wheelofawareness.com/

Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #98 with Dawson Church on “The Science Behind Using Meditation: Rewiring Your Brain for Happiness: https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/dr-dawson-church-on-the-science-behind-using-meditation-rewiring-your-brain-for-happiness-resilience-and-joy/

REFERENCES:

[i] Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength and Happiness by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. (March 27, 2018). https://www.amazon.com/Resilient-Grow-Unshakable-Strength-Happiness/dp/0451498844

[ii] Resilient| Rick Hanson| Talks at Google Published on YouTube October 17, 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nqR9XNU7Wk

[iii] IBID

[iv] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #74 with Horacio Sanchez on “How to Apply Brain Science to Improve Instruction and School Climate” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/leading-brain-science-and-resiliency-expert-horatio-sanchez-on-how-to-apply-brain-science-to-improve-instruction-and-school-climate/

[v] https://www.resiliencyinc.com/about-us

[vi] Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance  TED TALK April 2013 https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance?language=en

[vii] Jemi Thompson’s Thriving YOUniversity’s Private Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/thrivingyouniversitybecomingbettereducators/permalink/3315911391986109

[viii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #28 with Dr. Daniel Siegel on “Mindsight: The Basis for Social and Emotional Intelligence” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/clinical-professor-of-psychiatry-at-the-ucla-school-of-medicine-dr-daniel-siegel-on-mindsight-the-basis-for-social-and-emotional-intelligence/

[ix] IBID

What is Heart Rate Variability and Why is it Important for Tracking Health, Recovery and Resilience? with Andrea Samadi

What is Heart Rate Variability and Why is it Important for Tracking Health, Recovery and Resilience? with Andrea Samadi

April 21, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast episode #125 on Heart Rate Variability that I just heard as being “The Most Important Biomarker for Tracking Health, Recovery and Resilience”[i] to Optimize Our Results by Dr. David Rabin on Neurohacker[ii] The Collective Insights Podcast with Heather Sandison. ND.

My name is Andrea Samadi, I’m a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast for some time, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

If you are listening to this episode on iTunes, click here to see the images in the show notes.

Our podcast took a turn towards the importance of health and well-being with the Top 5 Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Strategies last September 2020 with our episode #87[iii]  and we have put a serious focus on these health staples and their importance on cognitive performance, ever since.

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I want to thank you for listening, and for keeping us in the TOP 100 charts on iTunes in the USA (for How-To/Education Category), Great Britain, Sweden, Mexico, Hong Kong, and many other countries. We appreciate everyone who supports the podcast which helps us to continue to produce content that will help you to further increase productivity and results in schools, sports and the workplace.

I’m always looking for ideas and strategies that we can all use to optimize our lives, especially these days, a year after COVID-19 shut down the world, changed the way many of conduct business, run our schools, communities and live our own personal lives. As the focus has taken a serious shift to health, with mental health at the forefront, and well-being in our schools and workplaces, I want to share the most important strategies that I come across and make them actionable for everyone to implement. This brings us to this week’s topic, understanding Heart Rate Variability.

What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and Why is it Considered the Most Important Biomarker[iv] --a measure that captures what’s going on in a cell at any given moment that can serve as an early warning system for your health.

Unless you have been training with a forward-thinking coach, you’re an elite athlete, or someone who has taken a serious interest in measuring their performance, most of us have not heard of, or really understand what exactly heart rate variability means, or why Dr. Rabin, a board-certified psychiatrist and neuroscientist, would consider it to be “the most important biomarker for tracking health.”  

I started to hear about heart rate variability while interviewing and researching certain guests, starting with Dr. Daniel Stickler[v], who raised his arm in the interview and mentioned that he wore the Whoop[vi] device that tracks his performance, and then again with Kelly Roman[vii], the CEO and Co-founder of Fisher Wallace Laboratories, when we were talking about his wearable medical devices for anxiety, depression, stress management and sleep that were shown to improve heart rate variability.

I wrote down the term, thinking, it’s got to be connected to heart rate somehow, and had plans of looking it up to see what exactly it was, so I could learn more about it. The problem was, when researching this term, I seemed to come across very high-level explanations. For those listening who are teachers, we know that when learning a new topic, it really does help to begin at the starting point and build from there.

One morning, I came across a post on Instagram from Neurohacker Collective[viii] that caught my attention. I’ve shared the Instagram post in the show notes, where they highlighted one of their recent podcasts that explained the importance of heart rate variability. I immediately sent an email to myself with the link to this podcast, and listened to it, and highly suggest this episode if you want to dive a bit deeper into understanding the importance of HRV.

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Heather Sandison, from Neurohacker Collective, interviews Dr. David Rabin on this episode where he explains that HRV shows each person’s ability to bounce back from stress, and why two people exposed to the exact same stressor, might respond differently. One person has a complete meltdown, and the other seems to bounce back easily and quickly. It’s all explained with how our brains have been individually trained to recognize safety, and threats, and also how we handle these threats. We did cover the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system on episode #59 with Suzanne Gundersen[ix]  that’s a good review for ways to bring balance back to our brain and body (like breathing techniques) and Dr. Rabin mentions on the Neurocollective Podcast the importance of gratitude, being able to name what emotion you are feeling to tame them as positive ways to respond to stimuli which trains our brains to stay calm while under stress.

With HRV, it all begins with taking a closer look at our heartbeat.

“Our heartbeat is not regular like the ticking of a clock beating once every second. A healthy heartbeat is irregular. This irregularity is desirable and an indicator of how ready the body is to adapt to stress. This stress could be bad like a fight with your boss or good like a promotion. When HRV is high, you can handle the incoming stress. When HRV is low you are less adaptable and less able to handle the stress. 

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HRV is a measure of our autonomic nervous system and the balance between our parasympathetic and sympathetic branches. The parasympathetic branch is our “Rest & Digest” and correlates with a high HRV. The sympathetic branch is our “Fight or Flight” and correlates with a low HRV.”[x]

Our HRV (or the distance measured between our heartbeats) tells you that “your nervous system constantly changes the length of time between your heartbeats in response to your environment. “[xi]  When we are rested and alert, our HRV will show that we can respond well to how the world changes around us. When we have high levels of stress, and are not managing this stress very well, it will show in our HRV score.

High HRV: Improved performance, high adaptability, improved cognition because your body is highly responsive to your environment.[xii]

Low HRV: Fight or Flight, easily exhausted, low adaptability, decreased cognition because either your sympathetic or parasympathetic system[xiii] is inhibiting the other.

“The higher your HRV (the more variability you have between heartbeats), the more your nervous system is in tune with your environment, and the better you’ll perform. A lot of things affect your HRV, with stress as the most common factor.”[xiv]

I mentioned that it was Dr. Daniel Stickler on episode #96 who held up his arm during our interview to tell me that he measures everything with a WHOOP (a wrist-worn heart rate monitor that tracks health data including your body’s recovery, respiratory rate, and activities to help you to optimize your well-being). What better place to learn more about HRV than with the company that was designed to help high performers, top performers, do what they do.

HRV Explained on the Whoop Podcast

So I went to Whoop.com and found their podcast to see how they explain HRV. You can tune into WHOOP’s podcast episode #29[xv] with Kristen Holmes and Emily Capodilupo that covers everything you want to know about HRV.

What Impacts HRV Levels:

Whoop’s HRV episode was interesting, reminding me that HRV is a signal that your nervous system is balanced and of the importance of finding our baseline HRV by measuring daily and then looking at the number to see trends over time. Emily Capodilupo explains that HRV is “your nervous system manifesting in your heart” which made me think about how everything changed for Paul Zientarski when they added heart rate monitors to their Zero Hour PE program, but what if they had added the understanding of HRV.  They would have had a whole new level of understanding of their students and what they were capable of.

This number is becoming more popular as a tool for athletes, because “the basic idea is that when HRV is high, an athlete is primed for optimal performance”[xvi] but Whoop discovered a phenomenon known as “parasympathetic saturation” where the body is “peaking physically” but also has a low HRV score. With only using HRV as an indicator, the opportunity to push this athlete at this time would be lost.

So HRV goes low when you are exercising at a high capacity and really pushing it and goes back up when you allow your body the rest and recovery needed for repair.  Your HRV levels can show to be lower when you are tired and go higher when you get enough sleep. Activity level, stress, illness, hydration, alcohol consumption, nutrition and how tired you are can all impact your HRV levels. The key is to fuel your body properly and understand that if you are going to put anything in it that we know is bad for us (like alcohol or processed foods) it will lower our HRV level.

Why Should We Care?

We don’t have to be endurance athletes to want to improve our performance, but if you are, I hope that you know of the importance of that Razor’s Edge Advantage, that my mentor Bob Proctor would talk about all the time. He thought this concept was so important he dedicated a whole chapter to it in his book, You Were Born Rich[xvii], that you can access from his website, that talks about the potential we all have, but many of us don’t use.

“The line which separates winning from losing is as fine as a razor’s edge.” (Bob Proctor).

Knowing what our HRV levels are can help us to gain insight into our own performance in a whole new way as we learn to understand when we are operating at our peak levels, and when we are operating at lower levels, so that we can fix our own productivity with rest, sleep, hydration or nutrition. The top 5 health staples that we’ve been talking about for the past few months.

HRV Levels and the Covid Vaccine:

Whoop featured an episode that dives deep into this topic and I found this podcast[xviii] to be fascinating as many people are beginning to receive their vaccines around the world, here in the US, most people in my age group have received their second vaccine, and those people who are in the Whoop Community[xix] had an opportunity to add a metric to their daily log that allowed them to notice how HRV scores were impacted by the vaccine.

They noted:

The results showed that “28.9% of members showed significantly depressed heart rate variability (defined here as at least 20% below their 14-day baseline)”[xx] which made sense to me when I put together that however you might feel after your vaccine, it’s “just your immune system being activated and a sign that the vaccine is working.” Emily Capodilupo explains.

How Can You Use HRV in Your Life?

Here are some steps that you can follow if you want to discover what your HRV measurement is, so that you can take this information, and use it to make changes.

  1. Download an App to Help You Measure HRV:

I’ve only been measuring my HRV since April 17th, and have been measuring through the Welltory App[xxi] that measures HRV by you placing your fingers over the camera, and it monitors your heart rate this way.  They say this measurement is extremely close to using a chest strap. I looked at my data from my Apple Watch (using the Breath App) and it was very close, and much easier to measure when I wanted to with this app.

  1. Measure Your HRV Daily to Find Your Own Trends:

HRV is a highly personalized/individualized score. It’s you competing against yourself and it wouldn’t do you any good if you were to glance at the score of an elite athlete and compare your numbers to see who is higher. There are so many variables involved, but well worth you learning how to optimize your own daily performance. On the Welltory App, you receive a score of your productivity level, energy and stress levels, and can gain deeper insights with the paid version of this app and learn how to upgrade or downgrade your performance.

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(Andrea's HRV Scores from April 17th-22).

  1. Take it To Another Level

It wasn’t long after learning about HRV, measuring my own data with the Welltory App, that I decided to become a member of the WHOOP Community[xxii] or try out this device for a year. You can join for as little as $30 for one month.  I have not spoken to anyone from WHOOP yet (other than contacting Kirsten Holmes, VP of Performance Science from WHOOP on Linkedin) to see if she would come on the podcast at a later date.  I was sold on learning more about this device months ago, when Dr. Stickler held up his arm and showed me how he monitors his daily activities. He mentioned that he has seen people who were not sleeping well, just fix that one parameter, and all other areas of their life fell into balance.

 

My WHOOP Strap arrives this Thursday, the day after I plan to release this podcast. I will plan on doing another episode with my results, and hopefully will get Kristen Holmes to come on and answer some of the many questions I have on understanding HRV, but until then, I hope this has given you a starting point, like it gave me, to begin to measure your HRV for free, through the Welltory app, and see what you discover with your own data.

This information could be helpful to motivate behavioral change and gives you direct access to how you “live and think, and how your behavior affects your nervous system and bodily functions.”[xxiii] My hopes are that this understanding will help us to better manage the stress we face, with a new angle of awareness.

See you on Friday!

RESOURCES: 

Normative HRV Scores by Age and Gender by Jason Moore March 10, 2021 https://elitehrv.com/normal-heart-rate-variability-age-gender

Interpreting HRV Trends in Athletes: High Isn’t Always Good, and Low Isn’t Always Bad by Andrew Flatt https://simplifaster.com/articles/interpreting-hrv-trends-athletes/

What is Heart Rate Variability and What Can it Tell Us About Our Health? https://knowledgeasmedicine.com/2017/10/heart-rate-variability-can-tell-us-health/

REFERENCES:

[i] Dr. David Rabin “The Neuroscience of Stress: Strategies to Relax the Mind” May 5, 2020 with Heather Sandison, ND on the Collective Insight Podcast https://neurohacker.com/the-neuroscience-of-stress-strategies-to-relax-the-mind

[ii] https://neurohacker.com/

[iii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #87 “Top 5 Health Staples and Alzheimer’s Prevention Strategies with Andrea Samadi”   https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/do-you-know-the-top-5-brain-health-and-alzheimers-prevention-strategies-with-andrea-samadi/

[iv] Biomarkers https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/science/biomarkers/index.cfm

[v] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #96 with Dr. Daniel Stickler on “Expanding Awareness for Limitless Peak Performance, Health, Longevity and Intelligence.” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/dr-daniel-stickler-on-expanding-awareness-for-limitless-peak-performance-health-longevity-and-intelligence/

[vi] https://www.whoop.com/

[vii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #108 with Kelly roman on “Wearable Medical Devices for Anxiety, Depression, Sleep and Stress Management” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/ceo-of-fisher-wallace-laboratories-on-wearable-medical-devices-for-anxiety-depression-and-sleepstress-management/

[viii] https://www.instagram.com/p/CNxlupkD4BX/

[ix]Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast #59 with Suzanne Gundersen with “The Polyvagal Theory in Practice”  https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/suzanne-gundersen-on-the-polyvagal-theory-in-practice/

[x] What is Heart Rate Variability and How Can You Improve It? June 3, 2019 by Michelle Viggiano https://www.aimhumanperformance.com/blog/2019/6/3/what-is-heart-rate-variability-and-how-can-you-improve-it

[xi] 8 Ways to Increase HRV July 12, 2019 by Spencer Brooks https://biostrap.com/blog/8-ways-to-increase-hrv-biohacking-with-biostrap/

[xii] Why Athletes Should Want High Heart Rate Variability by Todd Stewart https://www.whoop.com/thelocker/why-athletes-should-want-high-heart-rate-variability/

[xiii] Why Athletes Should Want High Heart Rate Variability by Todd Stewart https://www.whoop.com/thelocker/why-athletes-should-want-high-heart-rate-variability/

[xiv] IBID

[xv] Whoop Podcast The Locker with Will Ahmed EPSIODE #29 Kristen Holmes and Emily Capodilupo on HRV https://www.whoop.com/thelocker/podcast-29-heart-rate-variability-hrv/

[xvi] Whoop Recovery: HRV App Takes it Up a Notch Nov. 22, 2016 https://www.whoop.com/thelocker/whoop-recovery-taking-hrv-to-the-next-level/

[xvii] You Were Born Rich by Bob Proctor Download this Book for FREE here https://www.proctorgallagherinstitute.com/you-were-born-rich-book

[xviii] The Science Behind Vaccinations and Data from WHOOP Members After Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine by Emily Capodilupo (Jan 26, 2021). https://www.whoop.com/thelocker/covid-19-vaccine-effects-data/

[xix] https://www.whoop.com/

[xx] The Science Behind Vaccinations and Data from WHOOP Members After Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine by Emily Capodilupo (Jan 26, 2021). https://www.whoop.com/thelocker/covid-19-vaccine-effects-data/

[xxi] https://welltory.com/

[xxii] https://www.whoop.com/membership/

[xxiii] Heart Rate Variability: A New Way to Track Well-Being by Marcelo Campos, MD November 22, 2017 https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/heart-rate-variability-new-way-track-well-2017112212789

 

Brain Fact Friday on “How to Be a Neuroscience Researcher in 4 Simple Steps”

Brain Fact Friday on “How to Be a Neuroscience Researcher in 4 Simple Steps”

April 16, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #124. If you’ve been listening to this podcast, called Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning, I’m sure you’ve made the connection with the importance of improving our social and emotional skills, in our schools and otherwise called emotional intelligence skills in the workplace with an understanding of how our brain works.

This week we interviewed Professor Chuck Hillman, from Northeastern University, and he mentioned that an important concept he would like to see in the future, would be more people like Paul Zientarski, who built his career with the application of Professor Hillman’s brain research.

Today’s Brain Fact Friday will teach you how to do this. If you’re interested in how you could be this person in your school or workplace, who could spearhead the implementation of these new evidence-based ideas, I’ll show you how simple it can be so that you can be confident that what you are sharing with your schools or teams is accurate, and not pseudoscience. 

In 2014, when an educator urged me to add the most current neuroscience research to my programs, I had to quickly learn about the brain and be sure what I was learning was accurate. I didn’t go to school for a degree in Neuroscience which is one route I highly suggest especially through Butler University’s Applied Educational Neuroscience Graduate Program Certificate with Dr. Lori Desautels[i]. I went another route, and found the leading neuroscience researcher, Mark Waldman[ii]  to teach me all he knew and later joined his Neuroscience Certification Program[iii] so I could share the most accurate research with others and stay up to date, since this information is always advancing and changing.

This is exactly what Paul Zientarski had to do when he began to learn how the brain works from Professor Hillman’s research. Once you have an understanding of how the brain works, and know where to look to attach the most current research studies for your hypothesis, or something you are interested in sharing with others, it’s really not that difficult. We can all be neuroscience researchers, but the key is to find accurate studies that come from a website called Pubmed.gov[iv] not just Google, YouTube or random articles you might find on the internet.

This is how I added brain-research to my second book, Level Up: A Brain-Based Strategy to Skyrocket Student Success and Achievement[v] and began speaking on the topic of “Stress, Learning and the Brain” in 2016. My first brain-based presentation for YRDSB Quest Conference[vi] in 2016 filled up and had standing room only. Principles, Superintendents, teachers and students filled the room, with the hopes of learning something new. It was the research that was throughout this presentation that helped me to have the confidence to share this knowledge, and not feel intimidated with the fact that I am not a Cognitive Neuroscientist, but someone who is passionate about the subject, that I would gladly trade my weekends to study and learn more, so I can share it with others. There was one slide that gave credibility to the topic, with the advice of Mark Waldman, who had been presenting on the topic many years before me.  It’s funny because he mentioned that studies show if you put an image of the brain in your presentation, it adds instant credibility to what you are saying.

I’ll put the slide in the show notes, so you can see how easy it can be to attach a Pubmed Study and picture of a brain, to your next presentation if you want to add neuroscience to your next presentation. You can see my slide where I am talking about what stress does to our brain, as well as our students’ brains.

If you are listening to this podcast on iTunes, you can access the images in the show notes here. 

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How Can You Become a Neuroscience Researcher?

Here’s 4 simple steps that I know you could implement.

STEP 1: First you want to think of your hypothesis, or something you are interested in, that you will back up with the most current research. Let’s use my presentation slide as an example and say that want to do a presentation on “How Stress Impacts the Brain and Learning.”

STEP 2: Go to PubMed.gov[vii] and it’s important what you type into the search bar.

Typing in chronic stress and the brain brings up over 16,000 results and is too many for you to read through.

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If you put (fMRI) in brackets, next to what you are searching, it will bring up studies that use brain scans, and this narrowed our search down a bit more to 628 studies.

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STEP 3: Read through the studies whose titles interest you.  If you’ve ever looked at an abstract or research study from Pubmed, you might think like I did when I first went there “how can I take this and implement it properly? I’m not even sure what the study is saying.”

Don’t worry, the parts of the study that are important are the title, that tells you the topic and hypothesis, or what the researchers want to prove. Then there’s a middle part that give you some details about the study that you can scan, and don’t worry about all of the language. I’m sure many researchers aren’t sure what it all means either. If you’ve ever conducted a study, you’re usually an expert on your subject area, and not an expert at finding the statistical mean for your study, but someone who is an expert will inform this part of the study, that helps them to find an accurate conclusion, that you will want to read. 

STEP 4: Pick a study that makes sense for what you are trying to prove.  The study that I used in my slide was “Chronic stress disrupts neural coherence between cortico-limbic structures” and you will see that I sited all of the authors of the study, exactly as they appeared along with the date of publication of the study.

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It really is that simple. You can become a Neuroscience Researcher and add the most current research to your own presentations using these 4 steps.

You can also find interesting brain facts that would go along with this study, to make what you are sharing more interesting, because another brain discovery is that “people don’t pay attention to boring things, or people” and you don’t want to be boring. You’ll want to take the science, and add it to your presentation, without the scientific jargon that loses people’s attention. You can add engaging brain facts throughout your presentation on your topic to bring the attention back, and give a sort of brain break.

 

BRAIN FACT

We know that stress impacts the brain and learning, but did you know that:

“Your brain is 73% water. It takes only 2% dehydration to affect your attention, memory and other cognitive skills.”[viii] The authors of this brain fact were so brilliant that they tied it to a study on PubMed.gov on “Cognitive Performance and Hydration.”[ix] You could easily add this brain fact to a slide, encourage your audience to take a drink of water, and remind them that our brain needs water to hold our attention, memory and other important cognitive skills.

How easy is that? I hope you find this Brain Fact Friday episode useful. If you do use these tips to implement some new ideas into your work, I would love to know. Please do reach out to me[x] and share how you’ve been inspired to add the most current neuroscience research to your school or workplace.

See you next week.

RESOURCES:

Tools and Ideas for Physical Educators with the Brain in Mind by Doug Smith @Smitty30sports on Twitter https://sites.google.com/view/extrainningspe/presentations

REFERENCES:

[i] https://www.butler.edu/coe/applied-educational-neuroscience

[ii] https://markrobertwaldman.com/

[iii] https://markrobertwaldman.com/certification/

[iv] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

[v] Level Up: A Brain-Based Strategy to Skyrocket Student Success and Achievement by Andrea Samadi (September 2015) https://www.amazon.com/Level-Up-Brain-Based-Skyrocket-Achievement/dp/1976819865/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

[vi] http://www.questconference.ca/

[vii] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

[viii] 72 Amazing Brain Facts by Deanne Alban https://bebrainfit.com/human-brain-facts/

[ix] Cognitive Performance and Hydration https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22855911/

[x] andrea@achieveit360.com

Northeastern University Professor Chuck Hillman, PhD on “The Impact of Exercise on the Brain and Learning.”

Northeastern University Professor Chuck Hillman, PhD on “The Impact of Exercise on the Brain and Learning.”

April 12, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast episode #123 with Dr. Charles Hillman, whose research and brain scans on students during his time at the University of IL (from 2000-2016) provided enough science to spearhead Naperville’s Zero-hour PE program that we’ve been covering on the past few podcast episodes (#116,[i] #118[ii], #119[iii], #121[iv], #122[v]) that put physical exercise and its impact on cognition and the brain, on the map. It was Paul Zientarski, the former PE teacher and football coach from Naperville who mentioned Dr. Chuck Hillman’s brain scan studies in our interview #121 and I thought these brain scans were so important, that I covered a deeper dive into the results of these scans on episode #122.

You can watch the interview on YouTube here.

My name is Andrea Samadi, and if you have been listening to our podcast for some time, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, (in school, sports or the workplace) it all begins with an understanding of our brain. The goal of this podcast is to bring in experts, who’ve risen to the top of their field, and share their knowledge, wisdom and tips that many of us wouldn’t have access to, since this understanding of the importance of our brain and results is relatively new.

Here’s more about our guest today,

Dr. Hillman received his doctorate from the University of Maryland in 2000, and then began his career on the faculty at the University of Illinois, where he was a Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health for 16 years. He continued his career at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, where he currently holds appointments in the Department of Psychology and the Department of Physical Therapy, Movement, and Rehabilitation Sciences. He co-directs the new Center for Cognitive and Brain Health[vi], which has the mission of understanding the role of health behaviors on brain and cognition to maximize health and well-being and promote the effective functioning of individuals across the lifespan. Dr. Hillman has published more than 265 refereed journal articles, 15 book chapters, and co-edited a text entitled Functional Neuroimaging in Exercise and Sport Sciences[vii].

When Paul Zientarski mentioned that it was Dr. Hillman who helped him to make up his mind about making changes to their PE program in Naperville, after he saw the scans of students’ brains after just 20 minutes of walking, I knew I had to find out if Dr. Hillman would come on the podcast.

I emailed him at Northeastern University on Saturday afternoon, and he replied early Sunday morning that he was interested helping to expand on the results he discovered through his brain scans. We had a chance to exchange some emails, pick an interview time, and that’s how simple it is when you reach out to someone who really does want to see change occur in the world.  Let’s hear from Dr. Hillman.

Welcome Dr. Hillman,

Thank you so much for such an enjoyable chat Sunday morning, as were picking a time to speak. I know that time is always a factor, when I’m reaching out for the podcast, and do want to maximize our time together, so we can dive a bit deeper into the research that began when you were at the University of IL.

Q1: Dr. Hillman, I listened to a podcast that you did with a young man from the UK, Daniel Elias[viii], and I loved his introductory question to you about what it was that began your interest early in your career to study children and the impact that exercise has on their brain? Can we start with where it all began for you?

Q2:  The research is clear that exercise has a significant impact on student achievement, from your work, and from the results that Naperville was able to create using your research to create their Zero-hour PE program, and from our conversation on Sunday morning, we know how powerful nature can be on our mindset and health, but I wonder, is there anything we can do to encourage physical activity in those students or children who have not caught the fitness bug, and prefer their screen time vs getting out and going for a walk in the outdoors?

Q3: Before I ask some questions about what your early studies showed, I wanted to double check to be sure that I have the correct understanding of what happened with the lower fit student’s brain vs higher fit. Is it accurate to say that “The most noticeable difference was during the difficult test, the brains of the higher fit students lit up bright red, showing the increase of brain activity they had access to, and the lower fit students just didn’t have enough brain power during the difficult test?” To be sure that I am sharing the most accurate information, how would you explain the results of this brain scan and what other research have you done that goes beyond what you discovered early on?

Q4: I saw 2 studies under the research tab on your website. What are you currently working on at your Center for Cognitive and Brain Health, and what is your vision for your work in the next 10 years?

Q4B: Are you looking at how exercise slows down cognitive decline?

Q5: Dr. Hillman, At your lab, do you only use fMRI scans? As brain scan technology changes, advances and improves, can you see how different brain scanning technology and tools could help us to learn more about the brain by perhaps measuring neurotransmitters, or looking at how different parts of the brain interact with each other? What do you think is on the horizon for how we can look at and measure with our brain?

Dr. Hillman, I want to thank you very much for your time today. If anyone wants to learn more about you and your work, is the best place https://web.northeastern.edu/cbhlab/  and your Center for Cognitive and Brain Health Lab?

I have put links in the show notes for people to learn more about your lab through Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.

Have an incredible week!

https://www.facebook.com/TheCBHLab/

https://twitter.cWom/CBHLab

https://www.linkedin.com/in/charles-hillman-2b55a614/

RESOURCES:

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2nd Edition https://healthysd.gov/physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans-2nd-edition/

Effects of the FITKids Randomized Controlled Trial on Executive Control and Brain Function (October 2014) https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/134/4/e1063

Art Kramer Director and Professor of Psychology https://cos.northeastern.edu/people/art-kramer/

REFERENCES:

[i] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #116 with Best Selling Author John J. Ratey on “The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/best-selling-author-john-j-ratey-md-on-the-revolutionary-new-science-of-exercise-and-the-brain/

[ii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #118 with Andrea Samadi on a Deep Dive into Best-Selling Author John J. Ratey’s Books “Spark, Go Wild and Driven to Distraction” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/deep-dive-into-best-selling-author-john-j-rateys-books-spark-go-wild-and-driven-to-distraction/

[iii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #119 Brain Fact Friday on “The Damaging Impact of Sugar on the Brain and Body” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/brain-fact-friday-on-the-damaging-impact-of-sugar-on-the-brain-and-body-with-andrea-samadi/

[iv] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #121 with Naperville’s Central High School’s former PE teacher and football coach Paul Zientarski on “Transforming Students Using Physical Education and Neuroscience” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/naperville-central-high-schools-paul-zeintarski-on-transforming-students-using-physical-education-and-neuroscience/

[v][v] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #122 Brain Fact Friday https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/brain-fact-friday-on-transforming-the-mind-using-athletics-and-neuroscience/

[vi]Center for Cognitive and Brain Health at Northeastern University  https://web.northeastern.edu/cbhlab/

[vii]Functional Neuroimaging in Exercise and Sport Sciences 2012th Edition  https://www.amazon.com/Functional-Neuroimaging-Exercise-Sport-Sciences-ebook/dp/B00A9YGOY8

[viii] Believe, Move Grow Podcast EPISODE #2 with Dr. Charles Hillman https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-i76v8-f88e16?utm_campaign=i_share_ep&utm_medium=dlink&utm_source=i_share

 

Brain Fact Friday on “Transforming the Mind Using Athletics and Neuroscience”

Brain Fact Friday on “Transforming the Mind Using Athletics and Neuroscience”

April 9, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #122.

This week we interviewed Paul Zientarski,[i] the former PE teacher from Naperville Central High School, who reinvented physical education using the understanding of simple neuroscience. Then last week’s interview with Dr. John Ratey,[ii] and his book Spark, cemented the idea of the profound impact that exercise has on our cognitive abilities and mental health.

Paul Zientarski said many things that caught my attention in the interview and took me by surprise especially with the whole idea of their Zero Hour PE creating such noticeable results with students in the classroom, and even going on to inspire some student to become PE teachers in the future. I thought what their research uncovered at Naperville was important enough to reinforce and take a closer look at why those students at Naperville scored so high on their tests after they took this NEW Physical Education class that blended aerobic activity with an understanding of neuroscience.  If you haven’t listened to Dr. Ratey’s episode #116, or Paul Zientarski on #121, be sure to go back and listen after this brain fact.

BRAIN FACT: Aerobic activity can transform not only the body, but also the mind.

Dr. Ratey said it clearly in his book Spark when he said that “aerobic activity has a dramatic effect on adaptation, regulating systems that might be out of balance and optimizing those that are not—it’s an indispensable tool for anyone who wants to reach his or her full potential.” (Spark, Page 10).

By now we all know that exercise increases brain activity, and that the benefits of exercise “come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.”[iii]

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Dr. Chuck Hillman[iv], from the University of IL (now at Northeastern University) conducted a series of brain scans on students and showed what their brain activity looked like after sitting quietly (not much color if you look at the images in the show notes) vs how vibrant the brain looks after even a 20-minute walk.

Without knowing anything about fMRI scans, one look at how the brain lights up after exercise, and we all can come to the same conclusion. “Exercise primes the brain, putting it in the right environment for learning.”

Hillman took his research a bit further, and divided students (aged 9/10) into 2 groups. Higher fit (if they could run 0.25 miles without stopping) and lower fit if they had to stop in this 0.25 mile run.

9_and_10_year_olds_students_Easy_Test_Hard_Te...

The students were asked to take a test similar to what you would find on Lumosity.com and the brains of the higher fit students lit up during the easy test, showing more red color (more brain activity) than the lower fit students. The most noticeable difference was during the difficult test, the brains of the higher fit students lit up bright red, showing the increase of brain activity they had access to, and the lower fit students just didn’t have enough brain power during the difficult test.

This study clearly shows how the power of exercise and being physically impacts our brain and cognition.

Hillman went another step further with his research and created a 9-month intervention PE program, taught by future PE teachers.

9_I_N_M_T_O_E_N_R_T_V_H_E_T_I_O_year_old_stud...

Half of the students had an hour of PE prior to their school day, and half didn’t attend the PE program. They went straight to school (they called them the wait list group).

The brain scans of the one-hour PE group showed a significant increase of brain activity compared to the students who did not take this extra hour of PE each day.

If you are listening to this podcast, I am sure that this will get you as excited as Paul Zientarski was when he first saw these results, and what made Dr. John Ratey jump on an airplane when Naperville scored so high on those tests, using this strategy.

“Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t.”[v]

How Can You Implement This Brain Fact in Your Life?

Whether you are an educator working in the classroom, or an employee working in the corporate world, this concept can be easily implemented to get you into a state of heightened awareness before learning, or before you need to sit and work for long periods of time at your desk.

  1. START WITH WALKING: If you have something important you need to work on, go for a walk ahead of time, to activate and prime your brain for the focused attention it will need. Hillman’s study showed it only took 20 minutes of walking to light up the brain. How much physical activity would you need to do to impact your memory? Standard recommendations advise “half an hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week, or at least 150 minutes a week.”[vi]
  2. START YOUR OWN MOVEMENT: If you want to take advantage of this concept and work in a school, share Paul Zeintarski’s[vii] podcast with your site administrator, and see how you can spearhead a movement of neuroscience in your school.  Watch episode #3 with Ron Hall, from Valley Day School on “Launching a Neuroeducational Program in Your School.”[viii]
  3. LEARN FROM OTHERS WHO HAVE PAVED THE WAY: If starting an exercise program seems too much, start doing some research to see how other people began theirs. I loved seeing the story of the Dallas Stars Executive, Tom Holy, who lost almost 100 pounds from starting a walking routine every night.[ix] What started for Holy with just 3 mile walks a day, at the beginning of COVID turned into walking 26.2 miles in a day, and over 100 miles in a week.  He began inspiring his neighbors to do the same, and health really is infectious. Everyone wants to help or motivate each other.
  4. MEASURE YOUR HEART RATE: It was adding the heart rate monitors into the game that really made the difference for Naperville students. To experience the best results with their Zero Hour PE, Paul Zientarsky explained that they had to measure the student’s heart rates during exercise and they needed to get their heart rate into the Peak Heart Zone Range of over 150 beats per minute, for at least 20 minutes. Of course, after I heard this, I looked at my workouts the past few months and noticed that although I exercise a lot, I’m very rarely in that Peak Heart Zone Range, unless I’m running. If we want to experience the benefits to our brain, we must put in the effort for this to occur.

I hope you have enjoyed diving a bit deeper into what exactly exercise does to the brain. As brain scan technology improves and advances, I know we will have more questions answered, and more strategies to implement for our brain health and well-being. Until then, I hope you have found something that lights a “Spark” for you to take some new action towards exercise, to improve your brain health.

See you next week.

 

RESOURCES:

Exercise Appears to Improve Brain Function Among Younger People Dec. 18, 2006 by Melissa Mitchell https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/206773

REFERENCES:

[i] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #121 with Paul Zientarski on “Transforming Students Using Physical Education and Neuroscience” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/naperville-central-high-schools-paul-zeintarski-on-transforming-students-using-physical-education-and-neuroscience/

[ii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #116 with John J. Ratey, MD on “The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/best-selling-author-john-j-ratey-md-on-the-revolutionary-new-science-of-exercise-and-the-brain/

[iii] Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory and Thinking Skills April 9, 2014 by April Godman  https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110

[iv] Dr. Chuck Hillman https://cos.northeastern.edu/people/charles-hillman/  

[v] Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory and Thinking Skills April 9, 2014 by April Godman  https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110

[vi] IBID

[vii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #121 with Paul Zientarski on “Transforming Students Using Physical Education and Neuroscience” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/naperville-central-high-schools-paul-zeintarski-on-transforming-students-using-physical-education-and-neuroscience/

[viii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #3 https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/interview-with-ron-hall-valley-day-school-on-launching-your-neuroeducational-program/

[ix] How Dallas Stars Executive. Tom Holy, used COVID-19 to Lose 100 pounds.https://www.star-telegram.com/sports/spt-columns-blogs/mac-engel/article245434890.html

 

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