Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning
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.”

ExpertQuotes_RickHanson.jpeg

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. 

Heart-Rate-Variability1.png

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]

IMG_4373.jpg

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

 

Naperville Central High School’s Paul Zeintarski on “Transforming Students Using Physical Education and Neuroscience”

Naperville Central High School’s Paul Zeintarski on “Transforming Students Using Physical Education and Neuroscience”

April 7, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, episode #121 with the former PE teacher from Naperville, IL, Paul Zientarski.

Watch the interview on YouTube here.

Hello and Welcome back! I’m Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with learning 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 putting our brain health first. We’ve mentioned that exercise is one of the top 5 health staples that’s a known brain-health and Alzheimer’s prevention strategy, from our episode #87[i]  helping us to take our results, productivity and health to these higher levels.  Ever since I came across John J Ratey’s book Spark[ii], I have been drawn in, wanting to learn more, so that I can share his research you, with the hope that something he has uncovered, inspires you, like it inspired me, and that together, we make improvements, even small ones, in our lives, that lean us closer towards the health and wellness that we need these days.

Today, I am so excited to introduce you to Paul Zientarski, the physical education coordinator from Naperville’s Central High School as well as the football coach who worked closely with Phil Lawler to attain the profound results that put Naperville on the map for outstanding academic achievement with their Zero Hour PE Program. John Ratey described Paul Zientarksi in Spark as “a grey-haired furnace of a man with steady eyes and a fact-is fact delivery with the presence of Mike Ditka and Bill Parcells rolled into one figure of authority.”(Spark, Page 18).  This paints the picture of one tough coach, with high expectations and no room for messing around. I have worked with a couple of PE teachers who had this same reputation in the toughest schools in the West end of Toronto, and found that there was always a softer side to this tough exterior, that I felt when I watched Mr. Zientarski’s TED TALK.[iii] You can see for yourself or go to his website where you can learn more about his Learning Readiness PE Program[iv] that reveals the passion he has for his students to learn, and be healthy at the same time.

What excites me the most as I am preparing my interview questions for coach, they called Mr. Z, is that not only did he have the vision for what he expected of his team, school and players, but that he had the vision of the “Smart Jock” back then, before everyone was talking about the importance of neuroscience in the classroom. Dr. Ratey recalled saying that when he first met Mr. Z, he was shocked that he heard these coaches saying things he never expected coaches to be saying. He quoted Mr. Z saying, “In our department, we create the brain cells, and it’s up to the other teachers to fill them” (Spark, Page 19) with regards to their academics.

I’ve thought long and hard about the questions I want to ask Paul Zientarski, whose presence has been described as that of “a seasoned U-boat commander” (Spark, Page 22) with the hopes that something he says, lights a Spark for the listener, to do something, take some action, using the immense wisdom that transformed Naperville’s well-oiled PE Program.

Let’s hear from Mr. Z!

Welcome Paul Zientarski! What an honor to have this opportunity to speak with you. Thank you very much for joining me on the podcast today. What part of the country have we reached you today?

Q1: Paul, can you take us back to when Phil Lawler[v] (who I was sorry to see lost his battle with Cancer in April, 2010) first came to you with this idea for this new PE program. Dr. Ratey said that it took the longest time to convince you. What do you remember about this new PE idea and what made you want to give it a shot?

Q2: As the movement grew, and the media attention caught a hold of what you were building at Naperville, from Newsweek, to your appearance in Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me Documentary[vi],  how did you start to make the connection between what you were doing, the results you were creating, and the brain, to begin your work studying neuroscience back then?

Q3: Who were you studying? What were other teachers saying as you began to share what you were learning? Did you receive any pushback from anywhere?

Q4: When schools began cutting PE, how did you make sure your vision that I see you’ve created with your Learning Readiness PE[vii] kept going?

Q5: What drew me in when I first heard about you, was your vision for the “Smart Jock” years before it was “in.” I hear all the researchers talking about how it’s the kids who look after their brain, who might have not be the coolest kid in school because they are kind of nerdy, not the typical jock we might have remembered back in school, but nerdy is in, and smart, from what I see, are those kids who work hard, with an understanding of their brain (health, nutrition etc). When did you first notice the need to recognize and reinforce this new stereotype?

Q6: What exactly did zero-hour PE entail and how did you motivate students to put in the hard work needed to attain the results?

Q7: I liked seeing a student mention that she took the skills you taught her in high school into college, and when she was stressed with her work in college, would run up the stairs to manage this stress. What do you think it was that took these students, and made them life-long exercisers?

Q8: Were there any concerns with pushing these students too hard and causing injury? (liability) and did any parents protest this rigorous PE program before the results were clear?

Q9: I love how Dr. Ratey compared you to Mike Ditka and Bill Parcels, 2 of the toughest head coaches in football history. With that being said, and knowing there’s always a soft side to the toughest coaches, how did you know how hard to push these kids? I know we can all go a bit more than our limits, but what was your strategy for this?

Q10: If someone is listening to this podcast, and wants to learn more about you and your program Learning Readiness PE, what’s the best way? https://learningreadinesspe.com/

Thank you so much for your time today Paul, for sharing the legacy you have built redefining PE class, reinforcing the “Smart Jock” with our next generation’s brain health in mind. It’s a true honor to have had this opportunity to speak with you.

Have a wonderful day!

RESOURCES:

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

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

REFERENCES:

[i] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #87 with Andrea Samadi on “The Top 5 Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Strategies”   https://www.achieveit360.com/the-top-5-brain-health-and-alzheimers-prevention-strategies-with-andrea-samadi/ 

[ii] Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey, MD (January 10, 2008) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D7GQ887/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

[iii] Want Smarter, Healthier Kids? Try Physical Education! Paul Zientarski Published on YouTube May 26, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V81cO8xyMaI

[iv] https://learningreadinesspe.com/

[v] Remembering PE Advocate Phil Lawler by Michael Popke for Athletic Business April 2010 https://www.athleticbusiness.com/people/remembering-p-e-advocate-phil-lawler.html

[vi] http://wjhmspe.weebly.com/super-size-me.html

[vii] https://learningreadinesspe.com/

Personal Review of the Fisher Wallace Wearable Medical Device for Anxiety, Depression and Sleep/Stress Management.

Personal Review of the Fisher Wallace Wearable Medical Device for Anxiety, Depression and Sleep/Stress Management.

April 3, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, episode #120 with a review and my experience using of the Fisher Wallace Brain Stimulator from episode #108 with Kelly Roman.

*NOTE: Andrea Samadi did not receive any incentive or royalty for this review for the Fisher Wallace sleep device. Anyone can test this device, in exactly the same way, as they do offer a 30 day trial period through their website. 

REVISION ADDED APRIL 5th/2021 at 9:58 marker with TIPS from Kelly Roman, Fisher Wallace Co-founder and CEO.

You will learn:

✔︎ What to expect if you want to try the Fisher Wallace Brain Stimulator to improve your sleep, anxiety or mood.

✔︎ How Andrea Samadi measured and tracked her sleep, using the FitBit App, and improved her sleep from getting around 5 hours and 28 minutes in her baseline week to hitting close to 7 hours of sleep in her final days of the trial.

✔︎ How you can try the Fisher Wallace Brain Stimulator for Improved Sleep, Reduced Anxiety or Depression.

Access past episodes here: https://lnkd.in/grfaE7y

Hello and Welcome back! I’m Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with learning 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 putting our brain health first. We’ve mentioned that sleep is one of the top 5 health staples that’s a known brain-health and Alzheimer’s prevention strategy, from our episode #87[i]  helping us to take our results, productivity and health to these higher levels, so when I had the opportunity to improve my sleep, I jumped on the chance, with the hopes that with what I learn from my experience, could help you, or someone you know who might be struggling with getting enough sleep each night. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t hear someone in my network mention that they are working on improving their sleep.

If you want to hear the episode with Kelly Roman[ii], the CEO of Fisher Wallace Labs and their wearable medical devices to help improve sleep, while also treating anxiety and depression, go back and listen to episode #108. After this interview with Kelly Roman last February of 2021, I shared with him that my brain scan at Amen Clinics (in July 2020)[iii] showed what Dr. Shane Creado felt my brain showed signs of sleep deprivation, and Kelly graciously offered to send me one of the devices/paired with a Fitbit see if we could improve my sleep. I accepted the offer and promised to take the month-long trial seriously.  It’s just a few days after the end of the month, and the results are in.

But first,  if you’re interested in this device, contact Fisher Wallace Labs[iv] at www.fisherwallace.com or by calling 1-800-692-4380. For just under $500 (they show a discount on their website when I last checked) you will be mailed a kit with the simulator, electrode headset, Velcro headband, sponges, carry case, manual, and shipping label. The Fitbit is separate if you want to measure your results like I did, and something you can purchase on your own. They offer a 30-day Refund Policy.

There are videos that you can watch that show you how to use the device right on their website.[v] When I received the Fisher Wallace device, it came quickly, via Fedex, and was simple and easy to set up, after I watched a video through their website.

Here’s what I learned:

Before doing the month-long trial of wearing the device, Kelly suggested getting a baseline for my sleep, and measure at least 3 days without using the device, to see the quality and quantity of sleep beforehand. I wanted to get the most accurate reading of how I was sleeping before I tested the device, so I did everything I knew would help my sleep like eliminating alcohol one week prior and during the baseline so I knew it wouldn’t interfere and setting the stage for a good night sleep each night.

Just a note: I have a strange sleep schedule, going to bed by 8:30pm each night and waking by 3:30am, which is a 7-hour slot. I live in Arizona and choose this sleep time mostly because the summers are hot, and it’s helpful to be able to hit the hiking trails early morning, see the sunrise, and beat the heat that gets well above 110 degrees in the summer.

My baseline was shocking, and if you have never measured your sleep, I highly suggest doing this as a starting point. In that 7-hour slot, I was only averaging 5 hours and 28 minutes of sleep each night, and this was with me really trying during my baseline measurement.

IMAGE OF BASELINE RESULTS FROM THE FITBIT APP:

If you are listening to this episode on iTunes, go to the Podbean Site to see the images in the show notes.

 

IMG_4301.png

After week 1 of using the device twice a day, for 20 minutes, I felt a surge of energy as well as a clear head, but that first week I had a couple of things that I had to complete late into the night, and it threw off my schedule for that week. Also, being a Mom, there are times the kids wake up at night, and that threw it off this week.

After week 2, I was averaging 6 hours and 23 minutes of sleep each night. This was a significant jump. So for the 7 hour block, it was saying that I was sleeping for most of that block, and not awake for an hour or so, like the baseline week showed. When the baseline week showed I was up an hour or so, this wasn’t me up, walking around, doing work or anything. This was the fact that without the machine, the quality and quantity of my sleep was much less.

After week 3, I was close to 6 hours of sleep each night, and week 4 and 5 breaking the 6 hour mark again averaging 6 hours and 10 minutes.

With what I know about sleep, just from the research I have been doing, and from my brain scan conversation with Dr. Shane Creado, a sleep expert who works with elite athletes, I know that I can still improve my sleep from getting 6 hours to 7 hours, but this would mean not waking up as early and I know that for the time being this is the best slot, so I will see how close to 7 hours of sleep I can get using the device.

This whole experience has given me a lot to think about, and far more understanding with how to create more energy in the day by using a device that was designed to relax your brain and improve sleep. It clearly has improved mine.

Here are the specific weekly results:

Baseline Week 1 (Feb 21-28) Averaged 5 hours and 28 minutes of sleep).

2/24: 5 hours and 53 minutes sleep. (took 10 minutes to fall asleep, 5 times awake, 11 times restless and 48 minutes awake)

2/25: 5 hours 45 minutes sleep. 1 hour 3 minutes awake SLEEP SCORE 70

2/26: 5 hours 21 minutes sleep. 40 minutes awake. SLEEP SCORE 76

2/27: 4 hours 54 minutes of sleep. (took 15 minutes to fall asleep, 3 times awake, 5 times restless and 25 minutes awake).

2/28: 5 hours 18 minutes of sleep. 31 minutes awake.

 

Using Device for 20 minutes 2x/day

WEEK 1 (averaged 5 hours and 23 minutes of sleep)

3/1: 3 hours 22 minutes (first day using the device I had a deadline and had to work well past my bedtime to meet it. This happens sometimes, but I wasn’t tired after just 3 hours of sleep and felt energized on day 1 of using the machine.

3/2: 5 hours 46 minutes. 58 minutes awake.

3/3 5 hours 7 minutes. 53 minutes awake. SLEEP SCORE 68

3/4 5 hours 37 minutes. 34 minutes awake.

3/5 6 hours 34 minutes 18 minutes awake.

3/6 5 hours 58 minutes 1 hour awake. (kid up in the night).

 

WEEK 2 (averaged 6 hours and 3 minutes of sleep).

3/7 6 hours 46 minutes with 26 minutes awake.

3/8 6 hours 17 minutes with 38 minutes awake.

3/9 6 hours and 12 minutes. SLEEP SCORE 79

3/10 5 hours 56 minutes. SLEEP SCORE 74

3/11 6 hours 15 minutes awake 24 minutes.

3/12 5 hours 16 minutes. SLEEP SCORE 76

3/13 5 hours 36 minutes. SLEEP SCORE 66

 

WEEK 3 (averaged 5 hours and 51 minutes of sleep).

3/14 6 hours 3 minutes. SLEEP SCORE 71

3/15 5 hours 29 minutes. SLEEP SCORE 68

3/16 6 hours and 18 minutes with 37 minutes awake.

3/17 6 hours and 28 minutes with 28 minutes awake.

3/18 6 hours and 19 minutes with 45 minutes awake.

3/19 6 hours and 7 minutes with 41 minutes awake.

3/20 4 hours and 13 minutes with SLEEP SCORE 66.

 

WEEK 4 (averaged 6 hours and 10 minutes of sleep).

3/21 6 hours 46 minutes with 49 minutes awake.

3/22 5 hours and 10 minutes with 39 minutes awake.

3/23 6 hours and 38 minutes with 43 minutes awake.

3/24 5 hours and 54 minutes forgot to wear fitbit. Don’t know how many min. awake.

3/25 5 hours and 56 minutes with 56 minutes awake.

3/26 5 hours and 49 minutes with 27 minutes awake.

3/27 6 hours and 54 minutes. Forgot to wear fitbit.

 

WEEK 5 (averaged 6 hours and 10 minutes of sleep).

3/28 5 hours and 51 minutes with 21 minutes awake.

3/29 5 hours and 36 minutes with 23 minutes awake.

3/30 5 hours and 52 minutes with SLEEP SCORE 69.

3/31 6 hours and 51 minutes with 42 minutes awake.

IMAGE OF FINAL WEEK RESULTS FROM THE FITBIT APP:

IMG_4305.png

TRIAL OVER

4/1 5 hours 22 minutes with 33 minutes awake. DIDN’T USE DEVICE.

4/2 6 hours and 53 minutes with 34 minutes awake. USED DEVICE.

Mood and Anxiety

I did notice some other improvements in addition to sleep, and I know the device also helps to improve your mood, anxiety and depression. While depression does run in my family, and it’s something I am fully aware of, it’s not something I’ve encountered any symptoms with to date, and I think this might that I’m aware of the fact that I need a certain amount of exercise to keep the endorphins and neurotransmitters flowing.

But I did notice that I had more patience, was less high strung or anxious, and was calmer with my day-to-day activities. I noticed this change immediately (and so did my husband) and along with an increase of energy, I was able to complete more tasks, in less time, and felt less stress before going to sleep.

Final Evaluation

I will continue to use the Fisher Wallace Brain Stimulator, maybe not every day, as I do want to continue to measure and see how I do without it, but I’d love to get my sleep into the 7-hour range, because I know this would help me in many other areas of my life. If you would like to try the device, and have any questions at all for me, please feel free to contact me with your questions. [vi]

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about tips to improve your sleep, I recommend going back to some of our podcasts that dive deep into the importance of sleep, like episode #71 on Self-Regulation and Sleep with a Deep Dive into Dr. Shane Creado’s “Peak Sleep Performance for Athletes”[vii] or episode #85 with Dr. Sarah McKay on “High Performing Brain Health Strategies that We Should All Know About and Implement.”[viii]

See you later next week with episode #121 with Paul Zientarski, who is the former PE teacher from Naperville, IL where I will dive deep into exactly what their program entailed to achieve the outstanding results that put them on the map for the most compelling case study proving the profound impact that exercise has on our cognitive abilities.

See you next week!

SLEEP STUDY REVISION (added April 5th/2021) at marker (9:58).

After I released my sleep study episode, I sent it over to Kelly Roman from Fisher Wallace Laboratories, and he let me know that there were some important considerations that I should mention to further improve this episode, to go a bit deeper into the sleep study results. He suggested that I read the article “How to Interpret the results of a sleep study”[1] that had some important terminology that he felt was important to mention.

The article explains Total Sleep Time

“The total sleep time is the total amount of sleep time scored during the total recording time. This includes time from sleep onset to sleep offset and is distributed throughout the sleep time as minutes of Stage N1 sleep, Stage N2 sleep, Stage N3, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. All these times are described in minutes. A low total sleep time may indicate that the patient slept for an insufficient period of time due to non-medical/non-physiological reasons, certain medical or sleep disorders, or as a result of the effect of medications. Long total sleep time may suggest prior sleep deprivation, medical conditions, or effects of medications. High levels of sleep fragmentation, as defined by recurrent awakenings and/or stage shifts may result in complaints of non-restorative sleep even when an apparently normal total sleep time is present.” (How to Interpret the Results of a Sleep Study).

A Fitbit does measure these sleep stages, and in my study, I showed the total time I was asleep in the 7-hour block of time, and minutes awake but didn’t share the REM time since I only got this report with a sleep score. I’m not sure why some days I didn’t get a sleep score.  If I was to repeat this study, or go deeper into my results, I could look at the stages of sleep and REM time to see how much deep sleep I’m getting using the device vs without the device. Looking at the scores, I can see that in my baseline week I was averaging 42 minutes of REM sleep and 58 minutes in my last week using the device.

Sleep Efficiency

“Sleep efficiency is another important parameter that refers to percentage of total time in bed actually spent in sleep. It is calculated as sum of Stage N1, Stage N2, Stage N3, and REM sleep, divided by the total time in bed and multiplied by 100. Sleep efficiency gives an overall sense of how well the patient slept, but it does not distinguish frequent, brief episodes of wakefulness. A low sleep efficiency percentage could result from long sleep latency and long sleep offset to lights on time with otherwise normal quantity and quality of sleep in between. Many laboratories report total wake time, that is, the amount of wake time during the total recording time in minutes after the sleep onset. The total amount gives a general estimation for overall quality of sleep. Total wake time is the reciprocal of total sleep time. A high total sleep time percent is always associated with low total wake time percent and vice versa.” (How to Interpret the Results of a Sleep Study)

I looked up sleep efficiency and found a calculator[2] to help figure out this time and I’m not sure how accurate this calculator is, but this is a start for taking a closer look at the data from my sleep study.

BASELINE: To see my sleep efficiency in my baseline, I took 2/24 where I went to sleep at 8:27pm and woke up at 3:12am. I used the sleep efficiency calculator to see how efficient it says my sleep was in the baseline period. It calculated that I was in bed for 423 minutes, (7.1 hours) was awake 1.3 hours, and had a sleep efficiency score of 82%.

FINAL WEEK: I took the last day of the study, 3/31 and where I went to sleep at 7:56pm and woke up at 3:29am. The calculator logged 454 minutes of sleep (7.6 hours) with 57 minutes awake, and a sleep efficiency score of 87%.

Wakefulness After Sleep Onset (WASO)

Another important reported parameter is “wake after sleep onset, also known as ‘WASO’. This refers to periods of wakefulness occurring after defined sleep onset. This parameter measures wakefulness, excluding the wakefulness occurring before sleep onset. WASO time is a better reflection of sleep fragmentation.” (How to Interpret the Results of a Sleep Study).

 

The Fitbit measures total time awake, and I did log this time in my results. This was the part of the study that I found to be a bit shocking, since I just assumed that when I went to sleep around 8:30pm, that I was sleeping until I woke up around 3:30am or so. I didn’t know that during my 7-hour block of time, I was averaging 53 minutes of wakefulness in my baseline and only 29 minutes of wakefulness in my last week of testing. It’s definitely eye-opening to see how the device improved my sleep WASO score.

In my baseline, I was showing an average of 47.2 minutes awake or WASO and in the final week of the study, WASO score was significantly improved, averaging 36.8 minutes using the device.

Kelly Roman suggested that I look at each week using the device, compared to the baseline of 5 hours and 28 minutes of sleep, (323 minutes)  showing week 1 not much change due to that one night I worked late with 323 total minutes of sleep , week 2 showed an increase in 35 minutes of sleep, Week 3 an increase of 23 minutes, week 4, an increase of 42 minutes, and week 5, the same increase of 42 minutes above the baseline.  According to Kelly Roman, 20 minutes of sleep increase is what he says would be the gold standard minimum that doesn’t seem like a lot but allows for improved REM sleep and over time he says reduces sleep debt.  What was powerful was that my study showed an increase of much more that this gold standard of 20 minutes improvement showing me that the device worked better than I realized without showing him these results.

He also suggested the importance of talking about drug therapy for sleep improvement, where a drug like Ambien would be clinically significant to improve total sleep time by 20 minutes per night, and my results showed to be much higher than this. The Fisher Wallace Device is an incredible tool for improving sleep without using any medicines, but it’s important to note-- I’ve heard over and over again from Dr. Daniel Amen of the negative impacts that sleep aids have on the brain saying “They cause memory problems, daytime drowsiness, confusion, addiction and severe withdrawal syndrome if they are abruptly discontinued”[3] If you are listening to this episode, using a doctor prescribed sleep medicine, please do speak to your doctor before making any changes to your health care plans.

I hope this additional information on my sleep study was helpful for you, if you know that sleep is something that you want to improve.  I am going to continue to improve mine, and so grateful to have had this opportunity to test the Fisher Wallace Sleep Device.

RESOURCES:

The Secret to Overcoming Sleep Problems by Dr. Daniel Amen June 25th, 2019 https://www.amenclinics.com/blog/the-secrets-to-overcoming-sleep-problems/

[1] How to Interpret the results of a sleep study by Deepack Shrivastava, MD Published Nov. 25, 2014 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4246141/

[2] https://mysleepwell.ca/cbti/sleep-efficiency-calculator/

[3] Sleeping Pills, Anxiety Meds, and the Impending Disaster by Dr. Daniel Amen, June 11, 2020 https://www.amenclinics.com/blog/sleeping-pills-anxiety-meds-and-the-impending-disaster/

 

REFERENCES:

[i] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #87 with Andrea Samadi on “The Top 5 Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Strategies”   https://www.achieveit360.com/the-top-5-brain-health-and-alzheimers-prevention-strategies-with-andrea-samadi/  

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

[iii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #84 BRAIN SCAN RESULTS “How a Spect Scan Can Change Your Life” with Andrea Samadi PART 3 https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/how-a-spect-scan-can-change-your-life-part-3-with-andrea-samadi/

[iv] https://www.fisherwallace.com/ 1-800-692-4380

[v] https://www.fisherwallace.com/

[vi] andrea@achieveit360.com

[vii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Episode #71 on a Deep Dive into Dr. Shane Creado’s “Peak Sleep Performance for Athletes” https://www.achieveit360.com/self-regulation-and-sleep-with-a-deep-dive-into-dr-shane-creados-peak-sleep-performance-for-athletes/

[viii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Episode #85 with Dr. Sarah McKay on “High Performing Brain Health Strategies that We Should All Know About and Implement.” https://www.achieveit360.com/neuroscientist-dr-sarah-mckay-on-high-performing-brain-health-strategies-that-we-should-all-know-about-and-implement/

Brain Fact Friday on “The Key Ingredients of Learning with the Brain in Mind.”

Brain Fact Friday on “The Key Ingredients of Learning with the Brain in Mind.”

April 2, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #119.

Hello and Welcome back! I’m Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with learning 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 putting our brain health first. As I am working closely with neuroscience researcher, Mark Robert Waldman, and learning new ideas that could help improve results for students in our classrooms, or those in the corporate world, I will share with you what I am learning, with the hopes you can implement the new idea in your life, for immediate, improved results.

This week’s brain fact goes right along with the past few episodes where we have been talking about the profound impact that exercise has on our cognitive abilities and mental health. Dr. Daniel Amen, (who we’ve talked a lot about on past episodes) and Dr. John J Ratey would both agree that it’s “simply one of the best treatments we have for most psychiatric problems.”[i]

Instead of just one brain fact about the importance of exercise on our brain, I have a few-- to really hit the importance of this brain fact home.

Here are Your Brain Facts for This Week: Did You Know That:

“Physical activity is crucial to the way we think and feel.” (John J Ratey, MD).  

“Children who exercise regularly are likely to do the same as an adult.” (Spark, Page 12)

“Statistics show that about half of those who start out with a new exercise routine drop out within six months to a year” (Spark, Page 260) probably because they jump in at a high intensity, it’s too much, and they give up.

If you have heard our past 2 episodes, you will know that Dr. Ratey wrote the book Spark on this topic after he saw Naperville’s scores on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) where they scored #1 in science and #6 in math, in the world, proving that there was something unique that they had discovered with the correlation of exercise and academic achievement.  Naperville provided a powerful case study that “aerobic activity can transform not only the body, but also the mind.” (Spark, Page 19)

Dr. Daniel Amen often talks about the importance of exercise, or walking 5 days a week, like you are late (he would say) for your brain health. He mentions that “blood vessels age, not your brain cells”[ii] and the best way to keep blood vessels healthy so blood flows to your brain, is with moderate exercise.

So for such an important brain fact, that two of the most famous brain experts I know, have focused most of their careers teaching the world about, why isn’t everyone taking advantage of this profound impact of exercise on the brain—for our students in our classrooms and for everyone in the workplace looking for increased productivity.

It All Begins With Understanding How Our Brain Works

Most us have not had the crash course in this topic. Since we know that our brain is involved in everything that we are and everything that we do, it’s important that we understand how it works, especially when it comes to making habits (like implementing a new exercise program) stick.

I was speaking with Victoria Sambursky this week (she is working closely with Dr. Ratey with her company Edominance)[iii] with assessments that unlock personality and behavior, and she was asking me about the best way to break a habit. I shared with her what I cover on episode #35 on “Using Your Brain to Break Bad Habits”[iv] since what we must do to break a habit is the exact opposite of what we must do when forming our new habit, like our new exercise routine that we want to start.

I Shared with Her—Here’s How We Break Habits and Here’s How We Form New Ones

Learning creates a synaptic connection when you are thinking, feeling, or actually doing something new. New neural pathways are formed. I’m sure you have seen the YouTube videos that show how the pathways look in the brain, like a highway.[v] Each time you think that same thought, or do that same action, you strengthen that neural pathway.  Each time you do that new exercise routine, that pathway strengthens. This is how you create a new habit.

Breaking a habit is just the opposite; by avoiding certain thoughts, feelings or actions, your impulses or neural connections become weaker and weaker. Just as knowledge and skills are constructed in our brain with focus, they also diminish (or prune away) without the focused attention. As we learn, our dendrites actually grow as they make new synaptic connections. Learning something new happens when we forge these new connections.

Think About it This Way:

“Neurons that fire together, wire together” and “neurons that are out of sync, fail to link.” If we want to form a new habit, we must practice the new skill over and over again, (wiring and strengthening the pathway) and breaking a habit, means don’t practice the skill—don’t even think about it.

It’s easy to see now that “we are what we think about” or “we create our reality” as we do reinforce our neural pathways with the attention to the habits or goals that we want. We even reinforce what we don’t want when we are thinking” I don’t want that piece of pie” or” I don’t want this project to fail” or “I don’t want to lose that game” and so on. The neural pathways for “I don’t want this or that” are being formed! Our brain only knows what we tell it, so we must be very careful with our thoughts, feelings, and actions, as they will reinforce those neural pathways in our brain.

In Learning Something New: The Key Ingredient is Motivation

Since the brain only hold information it finds to be useful, and discards what is doesn’t need, we have to be sure that when we want to learn something new (for ourselves or for others) that we make the learning relevant, and interesting. The brain will be motivated to learn when it’s exposed to something new, and unfamiliar.

How to Motivate Students to Learn and Move with Brain Health in Mind

I’m always looking for new ideas to help students learn when searching through social media, and this week I saw something that caught my attention.

If you are looking for tools, or ideas on how to motivate your students in the classroom, or kids at home if you are homeschooling, I highly suggest taking a look at the FutureSmart Program[vi] where MassMutual’s Foundation has partnered with the NHL to provide engaging financial education along with movement. The videos are motivating, interesting, and we know they are building the brains of our next generation.

If we can encourage our children and students to move, in any possible way, we will be stimulating their thinking skills needed for academic performance.[vii]  A new study suggests that “when academic classes include physical activity, like squats, or running in place, students do better on tests.”[viii] Take a look at this resource for some new ideas that go beyond just movement. They also have financial education and skills to help prepare our next generation to be future-ready.

What Does the Latest Neuroscience Research Reveal About Exercise and Our Brain?

We know that exercise increases levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine—important neurotransmitters that monitor the flow of our thoughts and emotions. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, and maybe you know low levels of it is associated with depression, but even many people don’t know the rest.

“They don’t know that toxic levels of stress erode the connections between the billions of nerve cells in the brain or that chronic depression shrinks certain areas of the brain. And they don’t know that, conversely, exercise unleashes a cascade of neurochemicals and growth factors that can reverse this process, physically bolstering the brain’s infrastructure. In fact, the brain responds like muscles do, growing with use, withering with inactivity. The neurons in the brain connect to one another through “leaves” on treelike branches, and exercise causes those branches to grow and bloom with new buds, enhancing brain function at a fundamental level.” John J Ratey

We are just starting to learn about the impact on our brain cells with exercise at the gene level and as technology in neuroscience improves, there will be new ways to measure the changes that are happening in the brain. I just learned from Dr. Andrew Newburg, who is a Professor in the Department of Integrative Medicine and Nutritional Sciences and the Director of Research at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, from episode #88,[ix] that the changes in brain scan technology make his job very exciting. Like Dr. Ratey mentioned we can see the changes in the brain with exercise, Dr. Newburg says that someone could start a mediation practice today, (or an exercise program) and wonder if they can measure the changes in the brain, and Dr. Newburg would say they can. With time, the frontal lobes of meditators become thicker, and he can see the changes in the brain with Blood/Oxygen Imaging that follows the brain through meditation.  With time, and new technology, it will be very clear that exercise and meditation changes the structure and function of the brain. I’m looking forward to learning what else they discover here.

Once We Know How to Create This Heightened State of Well-Being, Where Else Can We Use It?

In our podcast episode #27 with Friederike Fabritius, we covered the DNA of success or peak performance[x] which is that brain state where we lose the presence of time and are the most productive.

If we can create this heightened state of well-being for our students through exercise, we could also create this environment in our workplaces.

Friederike mentioned the importance of having fun with your work, (or with your workouts) releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, having just enough fear, fun or a challenge to release the neurotransmitter noradrenaline and that with these two factors, focus will occur, and the neurotransmitter acetyl choline will be released to help us to achieve the “flow” that occurs at this heightened level of productivity. These three neurotransmitters must be in place for peak performance to occur and when we hit this level of performance, it’s important that we are able to manage our distractions so that we can stay here for as long as possible for those higher levels of productivity.

Neurotransmitters-Peak_Performance_20196wbsi....

To Review Our Brain Facts, Let’s See if We Can Gain Some New Insight with Our Brain in Mind

“Physical activity is crucial to the way we think and feel.” (John J Ratey, MD).  

An understanding of our brain helps us to see why. Rigorous activity helps to put the brain in the right environment for learning to take place.

“Children who exercise regularly are likely to do the same as an adult.” (Spark, Page 12)

Since they have built the neural pathways in their brain that they reinforce over and over again. The only way they would not keep the same habit as an adult, is if they stopped exercising. And even with this example, we do have incredible muscle memory, for anyone who has ever had to stop their exercise program for a certain amount of time. Your muscles will remember, and your neural pathways will keep strengthening even with your time away.

“Statistics show that about half of those who start out with a new exercise routine drop out within six months to a year” (Spark, Page 260) probably because they jump in at a high intensity, it’s too much, and they give up.

That’s because most people start off fast and lose motivation when it becomes difficult. Pace yourself, remember that everyone is different, and don’t compare your workout or results to anyone else’s. Find something that you enjoy, and you will be motivated, creating the neurotransmitters you will need to reach those peak performance levels.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these Brain Facts, preparing us for our interview with next week with Paul Zientarski, the PE Teacher from Naperville, who will help us to see exactly what was involved with their PE program to reveal such outstanding results.

See you next week!

REFERENCES:

[i] Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey, MD (January 10, 2008) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D7GQ887/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

[ii] Dr. Daniel Amen on the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast “It’s Not Your Brain Cells That Age, it’s Your Blood Vessels” https://brainwarriorswaypodcast.com/its-not-your-brain-cells-that-age-its-your-blood-vessels/

[iii] https://www.endominance.com/company/about-us/

[iv] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #35 on “Using Your Brain to Break Bad Habits” with Andrea Samadi https://www.achieveit360.com/how-to-use-your-brain-to-break-bad-habits-in-2020/

[v] Neural Plasticity YouTube Uploaded November 6, 2012  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELpfYCZa87g

[vi] FutureSmart Program https://www.nhl.com/fans/futuresmart

[vii] How Exercise Can Boost Young Brains by Gretchen Reynolds October 8, 2014 https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/08/how-exercise-can-boost-the-childs-brain/?_r=0

[viii] Movement During Class Improves Students’ Academic Abilities by Linda Carroll October 21, 2019 https://mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/idUSKBN1X02CZ

[ix] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning EPISODE #88 with Dr. Andrew Newburg on “Demystifying the Human Brain” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/neuroscientist-andrew-newberg-md-on-neurotheology-spect-scans-and-the-aging-brain/

[x] Friederike Fabritius: “Fun, Fear, and Focus: The Neurochemical Recipe for Achieving Peak Performance” | Talks at Google Published Jan.15, 2019  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWi-oCySuFA

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