An 81-year-old brain doctor’s 7 ‘hard rules’ for keeping your memory ‘sharp as a whip’

Like any other part of your body, your brain needs daily exercise. Neglecting your brain health can make you vulnerable to degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

As a neuroscientist, I’ve spent decades guiding patients with memory problems through brain-enhancing habits and exercises — many of which I practice, too.

Here are seven brain rules I follow to keep my memory sharp as a whip:

1. Choose fiction when you can.

You can learn a lot from non-fiction works, but they are often organized in ways that allow you to skip around based on personal interests and previous familiarity with the subject.

Fiction, on the other hand, requires you to exercise your memory, as you proceed from beginning to end and retain a variety of details, characters and plots.

Incidentally, I’ve noticed over my years as a neuropsychiatrist that people with early dementia, as one of the first signs of the encroaching illness, often stop reading novels.

2. Never leave an art museum without testing your memory.

“Western Motel” by Edward Hopper 1957. Oil on canvas, 30 1/4 x 50 1/8 inches (77.8 x 128.3 cm). Located in the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. (Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Fine Art | Getty

My favorite painting to do visualization exercises with is Edward Hopper’s “Western Motel,” which depicts a woman sitting in a sunlit motel bedroom.

Start by intently studying the details until you can see them in your mind’s eye. Then describe the painting while looking away from it.

Artwork: Olivia from Recat for CNBC Make It

Did you include the tiny clock on the bedside table? The gooseneck lamp? The piece of clothing on the chair at the lower right of the painting? Can you recall the colors and the composition of the room?

You can do this with any piece of art to boost your memory.

3. Keep naps under 90 minutes.

Naps lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half, between 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm, have been shown to increase later recall for information encoded prior to the nap.

Several studies have also found that naps can compensate for poor sleep at night. If you struggle with insomnia, a mid-afternoon nap can boost memory performance.

Over the years, I’ve trained myself to nap for exactly half an hour. Some people I know have learned to nap for only 15 minutes, and then wake up refreshed and reinvigorated.

4. No party is complete without brain games.

My favorite activity is “20 Questions,” where one person (the questioner) leaves the room and the remaining players select a person, place or thing. The questioner can ask up to 20 questions to guess what the group decided.

Success depends on the questioner’s ability to keep clearly in mind all of the answers and mentally eliminating possible choices on the basis of the answers.

Bridge and chess are also great for exercising your memory: In order to do well, you have to evaluate previous games, while also considering the future consequences of your decisions in the past and present.

5. Eat brain foods.

Dr. Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, has a great acronym for a BRAIN FOODS:

  • B: Berries and beans
  • R: Rainbow colors of fruits and vegetables
  • HAS: Antioxidants
  • I: Include lean proteins and plant-based proteins
  • NOT: Nuts
  • F: Fiber-rich foods and fermented foods
  • O: Oils
  • O: Omega-rich foods
  • D: Dairy
  • S: Spices

And good news for chocoholics (like me): A 2020 study found that cocoa flavonoids, the ingredients in dark chocolate, can enhance episodic memory in healthy young adults.

6. Use images for hard-to-remember things.

My wife’s dog, Leah, is a Schipperke (pronounced “SKIP-er-kee”). It is a distinctive name, but I’d have the hardest time remembering it. So to finally be able to answer “What kind of breed is that?” at the dog park, I formed the image of a small sailboat (small dog) with a burly skipper holding a huge key.

Get in the habit of converting anything which you find hard to remember into a wild, bizarre or otherwise attention grabbing image.

7. Don’t sit on the couch all day.

One recent study of 82,872 volunteers found that participants 80 years or older who engaged in moderate to high level of physical activity were at lower risk for dementia, compared with inactive adults aged 50 to 69 years.

Even just a shift from sedentary non-activity (prolonged sitting, a “never walk when you can drive” attitude), to active movement (standing, climbing stairs, walking a mile daily) made a difference.

Housework has also been linked to higher attention and memory scores and better sensory and motor function in older adults.

Dr. Richard Restak, MD, is a neuroscientist and author of 20 books on the human brain, including “The Complete Guide to Memory: The Science of Strengthening Your Mind” and “Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance.” Currently, he is the Clinical Professor of Neurology at George Washington Hospital University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. In 1992, Dr. Restak was a recipient of The Chicago Neurosurgical Center’s “Decade Of The Brain Award.”

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How cancer can make you speak in an IRISH accent: American man who had never visited the isle

A cancer-stricken man woke up to find he suddenly had an Irish accent — despite never having been to the country.

The American had been battling an advanced form of prostate cancer for close to two years before seeking advice for his ‘uncontrollable brogue’.

Doctors diagnosed the man in his 50s with the extraordinarily rare foreign accent syndrome (FAS).

It means he is just one of a handful of people to have ever experienced the speech disorder, which usually occurs as a complication of a stroke or head injury.

But medics in North Carolina — who treated him and shared clips of his voice before and after the bizarre change — believe his cancer was to blame. He later died.

The American had been battling an advanced form of prostate cancer for close to two years before seeking advice for his ‘uncontrollable brogue’. Pictured, Classiebawn Castle, Mullaghmore, Sligo

The man in his 50s had been battling an advanced form of prostate cancer for close to two years before seeking advice for his 'uncontrollable brogue'.  Pictured above, MRI scans released by doctors at Duke University Health System of the man's brain.  Scans A are T2 weighted images, while scans B are fluid attenuated inversion recovery images

The man in his 50s had been battling an advanced form of prostate cancer for close to two years before seeking advice for his ‘uncontrollable brogue’. Pictured above, MRI scans released by doctors at Duke University Health System of the man’s brain. Scans A are T2 weighted images, while scans B are fluid attenuated inversion recovery images

Presenting his case in the British Medical Journal Case Reports, the team at Duke University Health System said they think the man had developed a paraneoplastic neurological disorder (PND).

Foreign accent syndrome: What do we know?

Foreign accent syndrome is a rare disorder that sees the patient speak with a different accent than their natural speaking style.

It is usually the result of a head or brain injury, with strokes being the most common cause.

FAS can also occur after trauma to the brain, bleeding in the brain or a brain tumour. Other causes have also been reported including multiple sclerosis and conversion disorder.

It has only been recorded 150 times worldwide since its discovery in 1907.

FAS has been documented in cases around the world, including accent changes from Japanese to Korean, British English to French and Spanish to Hungarian.

It causes suffers to pronounce vowels in different manners, move their tongue and jaw differently while speaking to produce a different sound and even substitute words for others they may not normally use.

In some cases no clear cause has been identified.

Foreign accent syndrome can last months or years, or sometimes it may even be permanent.

These are rare complications of cancer, caused by disease-fighting cells in the immune system mistakenly attacking the nervous system.

Usually this causes muscle movement or coordination problems but it can affect thinking skills and memory, too.

The man, who wasn’t identified, was being treated at ‘an outside institution’ for prostate cancer that had spread through his body.

Over the course of 20 months, he had received androgen deprivation therapy — a hormone therapy to suppress or block the production or action of male hormones, as well as radiotherapy.

Worried about his sudden change, the man revealed that he had never been to Ireland and had never previously spoken in an Irish accent.

He told the medics, however, that he did have Irish family and friends and had briefly lived in England during his 20s.

Doctors said his new accent was ‘uncontrollable, present in all settings and gradually became persistent’.

Prior to his speech change, he also had no known head trauma and had not suffered with any psychiatric conditions.

While he had unintentionally lost weight, he reported no other symptoms.

Results of an MRI scan of the brain also showed no abnormalities, ruling out the usual causes of foreign accent syndrome.

But a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis revealed his prostate cancer had spread further, with ‘a new cluster of right pelvic lymph nodes above the bladder’.

Because of his progressive prostate cancer, he was referred to the Duke Cancer Institute three months later to undergo further treatment.

By this point, the man was still consistently speaking in the ‘Irish brogue’ accent, medics noted.

But his cancer had developed to neuroendocrine prostate cancer (NEPC), a lethal variant of prostate cancer.

According to the medics, there are many known cases of PNDs presenting as symptoms of patients with NEPC.

In the UK, prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer. One in eight men will be diagnosed with the illness in their lifetime, charities say.

The current outlook for advanced prostate cancer patients is poor, however, with few treatment options available.

Some 12,000 men die each year from the disease in the UK — 33 every day — with almost 35,000 deaths each year in the US.

Medics wrote that the man was shortly moved into home hospice care, due to his ‘rapid clinical deterioration’ as his cancer progressed despite chemotherapy.

He passed away ‘shortly thereafter’ they noted.

‘His Irish brogue-like accent was maintained until his death,’ they wrote in the BMJ publication.

Foreign accent syndrome can also occur after trauma to the brain, bleeding in the brain or a brain tumour.

There have only been around 150 cases documented worldwide since its discovery in 1907.

It differs to foreign language syndrome. The condition occurs when people suddenly forget to speak their native tongue and rely on a second language instead. This can be language they haven’t spoken for years.


How many people does it kill?

More than 11,800 men a year – or one every 45 minutes – are killed by the disease in Britain, compared with about 11,400 women dying of breast cancer.

It means prostate cancer is behind only lung and bowel in terms of how many people it kills in Britain.

In the US, the disease kills 26,000 men each year.

Despite this, it receives less than half the research funding of breast cancer and treatments for the disease are trailing at least a decade behind.

How many men are diagnosed annually?

Every year, upwards of 52,300 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the UK – more than 140 every day.

How quickly does it develop?

Prostate cancer usually develops slowly, so there may be no signs someone has it for many years, according to the NHS.

If the cancer is at an early stage and not causing symptoms, a policy of ‘watchful waiting’ or ‘active surveillance’ may be adopted.

Some patients can be cured if the disease is treated in the early stages.

But if it is diagnosed at a later stage, when it has spread, then it becomes terminal and treatment revolves around relieving symptoms.

Thousands of men are put off seeking a diagnosis because of the known side effects from treatment, including erectile dysfunction.

Tests and treatment

Tests for prostate cancer are haphazard, with accurate tools only just beginning to emerge.

There is no national prostate screening program as for years the tests have been too inaccurate.

Doctors struggle to distinguish between aggressive and less serious tumours, making it hard to decide on treatment.

Men over 50 are eligible for a ‘PSA’ blood test which gives doctors a rough idea of ​​whether a patient is at risk.

But it is unreliable. Patients who get a positive result are usually given a biopsy which is also not fool-proof.

Scientists are unsure as to what causes prostate cancer, but age, obesity and a lack of exercise are known risks.

Anyone with any concerns can speak to Prostate Cancer UK’s specialist nurses on 0800 074 8383 or visit



Excessive screen time during infancy may be linked to lower cognitive skills later in childhood

The amount of time babies spend watching computer, TV and phone screens in their first year of life may be indirectly linked to lower cognitive skills later in life, according to a new study.

Babies who watched on average two hours of screen time per day performed worse later on, at age 9, on executive functions, according to the study, which was published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Executive functions, linked to long-term academic success, are defined by the study’s researchers as “a collection of higher-order cognitive skills essential for self-regulation, learning, and academic achievement, as well as mental health.”

The researchers studied more than 400 children.

“They did EEGs to test and study brain waves at about 18 months and then connected the dots between how much screen time they were seeing in infancy to how they performed on memory and attention tests around the age of 9,” explained Dr. Jennifer Ashton , ABC News chief medical correspondent, who was not involved with the study. ‘What they found was that the babies who had the most screen time … did the worst on attention and memory testing by age 9.’

The study did not prove that screen time directly leads to lower cognitive functioning. Other factors, such as a family’s income level, also seemed to be linked to lower cognitive functioning scores.

Nevertheless, the findings track with guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics that children under the age of 2 should not have any screen time.

The AAP recommends that children between the ages of 2 to 5 be limited to just one hour of screen time per day that is supervised by a caregiver.

More than 75% of children younger than 2 and 64% of kids ages 2 to 5 exceed the recommended guidelines, according to researchers at the University of Calgary, who analyzed over 60 studies looking at more than 89,000 children around the world.

In this stock photo, a toddler watches cartoons on the phone.

Pavlina Popovska/Getty Images

Above the age of 5, the AAP says parents should set boundaries on screen time and work with their children to create a Family Media Use Plan that sets time limits and establishes guidelines on the type of media children are consuming.

“There are some studies that suggest with older children, particularly adolescents, that there could be some social or emotional advantages,” Ashton said. “So it’s really not only how much, it’s what our teenagers and children are consuming on the screen that really makes a big difference.”

Earlier this week, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy made headlines by saying he believes 13 is too young for children to be on social media platforms, despite some of the most popular platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, setting that as their minimum age requirement .

Social media use has been linked with symptoms of depression and anxiety, body image issues, and lower life satisfaction for some teens and adolescents, research shows. Heavy social media use around the time adolescents go through puberty is linked with lower life satisfaction one year later, one large study found.

Not every teen has those experiences. Researchers are still working to understand who is most at risk of negative effects from social media, and it’s not clear yet if there are differences in mental health effects based on when kids first start using social media.

For parents trying to navigate guidance around social media and screen time with their kids, Ashton shared these four tips:

1. No phones at the table for meals or family gatherings.

2. Stop screen time one hour before bedtime.

3. Keep phones and screens out of the bedroom when sleeping.

4. Lead by example as parents by limiting your own screen time and social media use.



The Last Drug That Can Fight Gonorrhea Is Starting to Falter

To an unfamiliar eye, the press release from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health two weeks ago looked pretty routine. Its language was a little unnerving, maybe, but phrased carefully: Analysts had discovered a resident with a strain of gonorrhea that showed “reduced response to multiple antibiotics,” but that person—and a second with a similar infection—had been cured.

To a civilian, the announcement may have felt like bumping over a little wave in a boat: a moment of being off-balance, then back to normal. To people in public health and medicine, it felt more like being on the titanic and spotting the iceberg.

Here is what the news actually said: A disease so old and basic that we barely think about it, even though it affects almost 700,000 Americans a year, is overcoming the last antibiotics now available to treat it. If it gains the ability to evade those drugs, our only options will be desperate searches for others that aren’t approved yet—or a return to a time when untreated gonorrhea caused crippling arthritis, blinded infants as they were born, and made men infertile through testicle damage and women via pelvic inflammatory disease.

The wearing thing, to professionals, is that they saw the iceberg coming. Gonorrhea is not like Covid, a new pathogen that took us by surprise and required heroic research efforts and medical care. It’s a well-known foe, as old as recorded history, with a predictable response to treatment and an equally predictable record of gaining antibiotic resistance.

Nevertheless, it is getting ahead of us. The Massachusetts discovery “is alarming,” says Yonatan Grad, an infectious-disease physician and researcher and associate professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. “It is an affirmation of a trend that we knew was happening. And the expectation is, it’s going to get worse.”

A bit more detail on the announcement: The Massachusetts said department that the person had been diagnosed with a novel strain of gonorrhea that was carrying a constellation of traits never before detected in one bacterial sample in the US. Those traits included a genomic signature—previously seen in patients in the UK, Asia, and one person in Nevada—called the penA60 allele. But genomic analysis showed that it also exhibited, for the first time, full resistance to three antibiotics and some resistance to three more. One of those is the drug of last resort in the US: an injectable cephalosporin antibiotic called ceftriaxone.

In 2020, the CDC declared that physicians should only administer ceftriaxone against gonorrhea because all the other antibiotics historically used against the infection had lost effectiveness. Fortunately, the substantial dose recommended by the CDC still worked for this patient. It also cured the second person, whom the health department says has no connection to the first and was carrying the same strain with the same resistance pattern. But to experts, that reduced susceptibility indicated ceftriaxone could also be on its way out.

“This situation is both a warning and an opportunity,” says Kathleen Roosevelt, director of Massachusetts’ Division of STD Prevention and HIV Surveillance, emphasizing that rates of gonorrhea are at historic highs across the US. To try to curb that trend, her agency pushed out instructions to every frontline health care professional in the state, asking them to extensively interview patients who test positive, encourage those who’ve received treatment to come back to be sure they’re cured— and, crucially, change the way clinics test patients for infection to begin with.



Coffee’s energy boost ALWAYS ‘needs to be repaid with sleep’

Why coffee does NOT give you extra energy: Scientist says pick-me-up is merely a ‘loan’ that needs to be repaid with sleep

  • Caffeine temporarily blocks a chemical called adenosine preventing drowsiness
  • But eventually adenosine binds to its receptor making us feel drowsy and sleepy
  • Dr Emma Beckett is a molecular nutritionist at the University of Newcastle

When it comes to waking up in the morning, most of us rely on a cup of coffee to give us the kickstart we need.

But your flat white, Americano or latte won’t actually give you extra energy – but instead borrows it, according to an expert.

Dr Emma Beckett, a molecular nutritionist from the University of Newcastle, said this ‘loan’ of feeling awake will eventually need to be repaid with sleep.

She explained caffeine staves off drowsiness by temporarily blocking a chemical called adenosine.

This chemical is part of the system that regulates our sleep and wake cycle, with levels rising throughout the day as it is released as a by-product when energy is used by our cells.

Caffeine staves off drowsiness by temporarily blocking a chemical called adenosine, Dr Emma Beckett, a molecular nutritionist from the University of Newcastle, wrote on The Conversation website

Eventually adenosine binds to its receptor – part of the cells that receive signals – which tells the cells to slow down, making us feel drowsy and sleepy.

Caffeine can help us feel awake by binding to the adenosine receptor and preventing the chemical from triggering the sleepy feeling.

‘But there is a catch,’ Dr Beckett wrote on The Conversation website. ‘While it feels energizing, this little caffeine intervention is more a loan of the awake feeling, rather than a creation of any new energy.

‘This is because the caffeine won’t bind forever, and the adenosine that it blocks doesn’t go away.

‘So eventually the caffeine breaks down, lets go of the receptors and all that adenosine that has been waiting and building up latches on and the drowsy feeling comes back – sometimes all at once.

‘So, the debt you ow the caffeine always eventually needs to be repaid, and the only real way to repay it is to sleep.’

Dr Beckett explained that while we are sleeping, adenosine levels drop as we are using less energy, meaning we wake up in the morning feeling refreshed.

Drinking coffee later in the day, when there is more adenosine in the body, may feel more powerful than a morning cup, she said.

And if you like your coffee with sugar this could add to the eventual ‘crash’ feeling following a spike in blood sugar, she added.

‘Caffeine can be useful, but it isn’t magic,’ Dr Beckett said. ‘To create energy and re-energize our bodies we need enough food, water and sleep.’

The caffeine found in tea, energy drinks and other beverages would impact the body in a similar way, she wrote.

A recent study found that drinking two to three cups of coffee a day could be linked to a longer lifespan.

Researchers discovered two to three cups a day was linked with up to a 27 per cent lower likelihood of death compared to those who drank none at all.

The findings, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, applied to ground, instant and decaffeinated varieties, with researchers saying coffee consumption should be considered part of a healthy lifestyle.




Rare but deadly fungal infection Valley Fever is spreading fast ‘because of climate change’

A deadly fungal infection is spreading across the US — and scientists believe it is due to climate change.

Cases of ‘Valley Fever’ – which is 10 times more deadly than flu – have risen 20-fold since the turn of the century.

It is caused by the fungus Coccidioides, which releases spores in the air when soil is disturbed. The spores are then inhaled by people, most commonly construction workers.

The fungus thrives in warm, dry environments and was dubbed Valley Fever because 97 percent of cases are found in Arizona and California. But infections have begun to crop up in other parts of the country, and experts fear that by 2100 it could be endemic in 17 states.

It comes amid heightened fears about fungal outbreaks, following the hit apocalyptic HBO show ‘The Last of Us,’ which depicts a fungus that turns victims into zombies.

The fungus spore is whipped up into the air when the soil is disturbed by the wind or digging. When humans or animals breathe in the spores, they travel through the respiratory tract and into the lungs where they reproduce

The infection was dubbed Valley Fever because 97 percent of cases are found in Arizona and California

The infection was dubbed Valley Fever because 97 percent of cases are found in Arizona and California

While Valley Fever cannot turn the host into a zombie, it can cause serious harm to some sufferers, and kills one in 100 who contract the infection.

Coccidioidomycosis or cocci originates from a fungus that grows in the soil in some areas of California and southwestern US.

The fungus spore is whipped up into the air when the soil is disturbed by the wind or digging.

When humans or animals breathe in the spores, they travel through the respiratory tract and into the lungs, where they reproduce, causing further disease.

Most infections are mild and clear up on their own within a few days or weeks, and the infection cannot be passed between people or animals.

Most people who have the mild form of infection will not realize because its symptoms — fatigue, cough, fever, aching muscles and breathlessness — mimic those of a respiratory virus infection.

Other symptoms include night sweats, joint aches and a red rash, usually on the legs but occasionally on the chest, arms and back.

But up to ten percent of cases become severe and take months to recover from.

In these cases, known as disseminated coccidioidomycosis, the disease can spread through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, including the brain, skin and liver. If it infects the membranes and fluid around the brain, it can cause meningitis.

'The Last of Us' follows smuggler Joel (right) as he escorts teenager Ellie (left) through Boston, Massachusetts, while a fungus spreads across the world

‘The Last of Us’ follows smuggler Joel (right) as he escorts teenager Ellie (left) through Boston, Massachusetts, while a fungus spreads across the world

'The Last of Us' is set in a world where a fungus is spreading that turns victims into zombies called 'Clickers' (pictured)

‘The Last of Us’ is set in a world where a fungus is spreading that turns victims into zombies called ‘Clickers’ (pictured)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 20,000 cases of Valley Fever were reported in 2019.

It said this is probably an underestimate, as Valley Fever has been frequently misdiagnosed because doctors do not know enough about it, so patients are not even tested for it.

The fungus is endemic to the desert-like parts of the Southwest, and 97 percent of all American cases are found in Arizona and California.

But a study in the journal GeoHealth predicted that, due to climate change, the endemic region of the fungus will spread north to include dry western states such as Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

In a high-warming scenario, this would mean that by 2100 the number of affected states could rise from 12 to 17, while the number of cases could increase by 50 percent.

In October last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) released the first ever list of fungal pathogens that pose a risk to human health.

Dr Hanan Balkhy, assistant director-general for antimicrobial resistance at WHO, said: ‘Emerging from the shadows of the bacterial antimicrobial resistance pandemic, fungal infections are growing, and are ever more resistant to treatments, becoming a public health concern worldwide.’

Valley fever is already tricky to treat, and there is no vaccine for it. Patients might have to take antifungal medication for months and endure unpleasant side effects such as hair loss and scaly skin.

Scientists have been trying to formulate a Valley Fever vaccine for decades, but a shot tested in humans in the 1980s did not perform well.

In the past few years, scientists from the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson have created a vaccine that works in dogs, which are also at risk of the infection.

The US Department of Agriculture could approve the shot for canines by early 2024, which would be the first one to protect against a fungal infection in humans or animals in America.



Brief exposure to this auto exhaust can impair brain function: study

Your morning commute could be inhibiting your brain function, a new study suggests.

Research published in the journal Environmental Health found a possible link between diesel exhaust inhalation and impaired cognitive function.

In the limited, randomized study, researchers analyzed the brains of 25 adults via magnetic resonance imaging. After studying the participants’ “functional connectivity” after contact, the study authors concluded that exposure to the diesel exhaust “yielded a decrease in functional connectivity” compared to filtered air.

Noting that they only analyzed the short-term effects, the study authors suggested that such a reduction in brain connectivity could be “detrimental” to the human body.

Their findings come at the same time as researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that poor air quality can inhibit the cognitive function of chess players.

Researchers from MIT discovered that the board game players performed “objectively worse” when exposed to poor-quality air, making more “suboptimal” choices during game time.

Diesel exhaust exposure could impair cognitive abilities, one study suggests.
Getty Images

“We find that when individuals are exposed to higher levels of air pollution, they make more mistakes, and they make larger mistakes,” study co-author Juan Palacios, an economist at MIT’s Sustainable Urbanization Lab, said in a statement.

The researchers analyzed 121 chess players throughout three seven-round tournaments in Germany in 2017, 2018 and 2019, which included more than 30,000 chess moves. Using sensors to gauge levels of various air components, researchers studied how the change in air quality affected the players’ performance.

They used software to analyze the moves made during the games, finding that when opponents were under time constraints and facing poor-quality air, their decision-making became even worse.

“We find it interesting that those mistakes especially occur in the phase of the game where players are facing time pressure,” Palacios said. “When these players do not have the ability to compensate [for] lower cognitive performance with greater deliberation, [that] is where we are observing the largest impacts.”

In another study, chess players’ ability to make proper decisions on the board was impaired.
Getty Images

But the repercussions of the phenomenon extend far beyond the checked board.

While the study measured air quality’s impact on game play, it has “strong implications for high-skilled office workers,” the authors wrote, and such data can provide relevant information to officials making decisions about environmental clean-up.

If poor air quality affects chess players who have spent countless days, weeks and months preparing their craft, then it can affect anyone else.

“There are more and more papers showing that there is a cost with air pollution, and there is a cost for more and more people,” Palacios added.

Air pollution has been linked to a number of transvestites, including environmental harm, cancer and mental health disorders. And it’s everywhere. Even Fourth of July fireworks, albeit marvelous to watch, can lower air quality in just a single night.

In fact, air pollutants cause up to 200,000 premature deaths per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overall, that number skyrockets to 9 million, per a 2022 study.

A 2020 study suggested that New Yorkers experienced a large percentage of premature deaths due to poor air quality in 2018. The experts blamed pollution that traveled from thousands of miles away and found its way to the Big Apple.

“It’s not like you have to live next to a power plant,” Palacios said. “You can live miles away and be affected.”



Sitting in traffic for just two HOURS can lead to brain damage, study suggests

Breathing in diesel exhaust while sitting in traffic for just a couple of hours can impair brain function and cognition, a new study shows.

Traffic pollution has long been linked to memory problems but it was generally thought that long-term exposure posed the biggest risk.

Researchers in Canada have found that the damage causes measurable changes within just two hours.

Air pollution not only erodes neurological health, it also increases a person’s risk of death from all causes.

Diesel exhaust fumes caused neurological connectivity damage specifically affecting a region of the brain called the default mode network, which plays a part in people’s internal thoughts and memories

In the new study published in the journal Environmental Health, researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria exposed 25 individuals aged 19 to 49 to filtered air and air contaminated with diesel exhaust in a lab at different times for 120 minutes.

During that time, subjects in the study rode on a stationary bike with light effort for about 15 minutes to increase inhalation.

All subjects underwent an MRI scan before and after each exposure to monitor brain activity at different stages.

They found that breathing in diesel exhaust decreased functional connectivity, a measure of how regions of the brain interact and communicate with each other, compared to inhaling filtered air.

Dr Chris Carlsten, a senior study author said: ‘People may want to think twice the next time they’re stuck in traffic with the windows rolled down.’

‘It’s important to ensure that your car’s air filter is in good working order, and if you’re walking or biking down a busy street, consider entertaining to a less busy route.’

The researchers specifically zeroed in on changes to the brain’s default mode network (DMN), a set of regions in the brain more active during passive tasks than tasks demanding focused external attention.

Damage to the DMN affects several areas of the brain including the medial prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex, the inferior parietal lobe, the lateral temporal cortex, and hippocampal formation.

Activity in the DMN spikes when we are awake and not involved in any specific mental exercise.

We might be daydreaming, recalling memories, envisioning the future, monitoring our environment, thinking about the intentions of others, and so on.

Dr Jodie Gawryluk, a psychologist at the University of Victoria and the study’s first author said: ‘We know that altered functional connectivity in the DMN has been associated with reduced cognitive performance and symptoms of depression, so it’s concerning to see traffic pollution interrupting these same networks.’

‘While more research is needed to fully understand the functional impacts of these changes, it’s possible that they may impair people’s thinking or ability to work.’

The default mode network has a variety of functions that could be hampered after hours of sitting in traffic on your commute home. The DMN is a hub for self-reflection and shows activity during rumination about who we are, our personality traits, and our feelings.

The DMN plays a role in our recollection of the past. Its functionality is crucial to our ability to retain episodic memories, or detailed accounts of events that have happened during specific moments in our lives.

The team’s findings offered some glimmer of hope: the neurological effects brought on by exposure to exhaust were short-lived. Though, long-term exposure from daily commutes in traffic will greatly compound the health risks.

The study said: ‘Real-world exposures are often more persistent, particularly in regions of the world for which levels such as those we use are not uncommon.

‘It is hypothesized that chronic exposure is effectively a series of short-term exposures (only one of which our participants were exposed to) that ultimately leads to accumulated deficits through a stress on allostatic load… but whether or not this applies to pollution in the neurocognitive realm, while hypothesized, requires further study.’

The fact that exposure to diesel exhaust can damage the brain is not in and of itself a new finding. In 2008, Dutch researchers monitored 10 volunteers who were hooked up to an electroencephalograph (EEG) and exposed for 30 minutes to air in a lab polluted with diesel fumes adjusted to typical levels of a busy city street.

In that time, researchers saw that the peoples’ brains displayed a stress response, indicative of changed information processing in the brain cortex, which continued to increase even after the subjects had been removed from the fumes.



Dangers of concussion laid bare by major new study

Dangers of concussion laid bare: Major new study warns just ONE can damage memory and brain power in later life

  • The study of more than 15,000 Brits people found the risk was cumulative
  • This means the more times a person insults their brain, the worse for their brain

Just one serious concussion can damage memory and brain power in later life, major new research has revealed.

In the largest of its kind, Oxford University researchers found three or more moderate brain injuries can have a long-term impact on attention span, memory and the ability to complete complex tasks.

The study of more than 15,000 Brits people found the risk was cumulative – meaning the more times a person insults their brain, the worse their brain function could be as they age.

The findings will heap more pressure on rugby governing bodies, already facing a class-action lawsuit from former professional and amateur players over their historical handling of concussions and brain injuries.

The study of more than 15,000 Brits people found the risk was cumulative – meaning the more times a person insults their brain, the worse their brain function could be as they age

Researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Exeter studied data from the UK PROTECT study, which has followed people for up to 25 years.

Participants, aged 50 to 90, reported the severity and frequency of concussions experienced throughout their lives and completed annual, computerized tests for brain function.

It showed people who reported three or more traumatic brain injuries had significantly worse cognitive function, which got successively worse with each subsequent concussion after that.

Lead investigator Dr Vanessa Raymont, from the University of Oxford, said: ‘We know head injuries are a major risk factor for dementia.

‘And this large-scale study gives the greatest detail to date on a stark finding — the more times you injure your brain in life, the worse your brain function could be as you age.

‘Our research indicates that people who have experienced three or more even mild episodes of concussion should be counseled on whether to continue high-risk activities.

‘We should also encourage organizations operating in areas where head impact is more likely to consider how they can protect their athletes or employees.’

The team found participants who reported three episodes of even mild concussion throughout their lives had significantly worse attention and ability to complete complex tasks.

Those who had four or more mild concussion episodes also showed worsened processing speed and working memory.

Each additional reported concussion was linked to progressively worse cognitive function, they found.

But even one moderate-to-severe concussion was associated with worsened attention, completion of complex tasks and processing speed capacity, according to the findings published in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

Experts suggest cognitive rehabilitation should focus on key functions such as attention and completion of complex tasks, which they found to be susceptible to long-term damage.

It comes less than a fortnight after the Rugby Football Union faced backlash after banning tackles above the waist at community level from July.

Designed to reduce concussions, critics argue the law was rushed through without consultation or sufficient evidence that it will drastically cut concussions in the sport.

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘Studies like this are so important in unraveling the long-term risks of traumatic brain injury, including their effect on dementia risk.

‘These findings should send a clear message to policy makers and sporting bodies, who need to put robust guidelines in place that reduce risk of head injury as much as possible.’




‘Reverse Diet’ Is Not a Weight Loss Cheat Code

Photo: Lolostock (Shutterstock)

To hear the TikTok girlies tell it, there’s a hack that will let you EAT MORE FOOD! While NOT GAINING WEIGHT! And it’s great if you are SICK OF DIETING! Never mind that one can achieve all those goals by a simple trick called “not dieting anymore.” No, it needs a name and a strict protocol: reverse dieting.

The basic idea of ​​reverse dieting is that you slowly add a few more calories to your diet every week. So s you normally maintain your weight on 2,000 calories per day, but you’ve been eating 1,500 calories to lose weight. You might then “reverse diet” by eating 1,600 calories a day next week, 1,700 calories a day the week after that, and so on. Eventually you’ll be back up to 2,000 calories, or maybe even more.

This is not a trend that originated on TikTok. The term seems to have come from bodybuilders, whose sport requires that they engage in extreme cycles of bulking (gaining weight to gain muscle mass) and cutting (losing as much fat as possible before stepping on a stage). While the process can create dazzling physiques, it also fucks with your metabolism and overall health.

Reverse dieting is one approach for transitioning from an extreme cut, to maintenance or bulking: Instead of just pigging out the day after your bodybuilding show, you might rather slowly increase the amount of food you eat as you find your maintenance calories again.

This idea spawned the current trend of influencers pitching reverse dieting as the cure for all your diet-related complaints. But it doesn’t work that way.

The science behind reverse dieting

Some of the claims you’ll hear from thin women flexing their abs on TikTok, and from the bodybuilders saying to just trust them, bro, are true. Among them:

  • Your metabolism adapts to dieting, so over time you have to eat less and less food to keep losing weight (this is a known thing).
  • After dieting a long time, you may be eating a miserably low number of calories.
  • Eating more food will allow your body to stop being so stingy with the calories, and can increase the number of calories your body burns.
  • After increasing your calories, someday you may be able to lose weight again while eating more food than when you were in the depths of your diet.

There are also a number of untruths and half-truths that come up. You may hear that increasing your calories too fast after a diet will make your body pack on fat, or that you can add 1,000 calories and still be losing weight, or something something hormones something cortisol. (Scroll long enough on fitness TikTok and somebody will explain that all your problems are due to cortisol. Take a drink.)

In any case, this is where “reverse dieting” comes in. Supposedly the cure to all of these ills is simply that you need to add 50 to 100 calories to your diet each week. The process is slow and requires patience, but stick to it and you too could look like this girl (imagine me moving my head to point at the before-and-after photos I’ve greenscreened behind me) on 2,400 calories instead of 1,200.

So what’s actually true about reverse dieting, and why is everybody so into it? Let’s take a closer look.

When it goes right, “reverse dieting” is just “not dieting” but with more rules

After reading all of those bullet points above, you might think, OK, so why not just stop dieting? You’ll get to eat more food, your body will burn more calories, and from there you can either diet again or—crazy idea here—just not diet anymore. Heck, you could give gaining weight a try.

And that is, in fact, the real answer. Just stop dieting. The world will not end. You can eat food again, and you will be fine. So why reverse diet?

As Eric Trexler, a nutrition and metabolism researcher, put it herethe original reverse dieters’ goal was to smoothly transition from a calorie deficit, to maintenance, to their first bulk after a bodybuilding contest without gaining any more fat than they needed to. One problem with this approach is that after bodybuilders diet that hard, they need to regain fat. You can’t stay dangerously lean forever, and that’s true whether you’re a meathead or a TikTok girlie.

On social media, reverse dieting is often described as a way of continuing to diet while eating more calories. It’s true that if you’re in a 500 calorie deficit and you’re only adding 50 calories a week, you’ll continue to be in a deficit for a very long time—10 weeks, at that rate. Trexler notes that “this would serve only to delay even the most basic and immediate aspects of recovery, and make [the dieter’s] life unnecessarily difficult.”

Reverse dieting is not a cure for chronic dieting

There are two things going on here, I think. One is relatively harmless. Land’s say you’ve been on a diet and you’re ready to start gaining weight. Instead of eating an extra 1000 calories each day (to go from a 500 calorie deficit to a 500 calorie surplus), you can eat an extra few hundred this week, and add a few hundred more next week, and so on. You’ll be less surprised by changes in your weight (eating more food means there’s more food in your belly, so the scale might tick up a bit just from that) and it may be easier to figure out approximately how many calories you should eat going forward.

But that’s not how it’s being described on social media. Thin women are telling chronic dieters that they can eat more food while continuing to be very thin, if only they follow a strict reverse dieting protocol. But the strictness and the expectations can be damaging on their own.

For an extreme example, check out this video from a registered dietitian and eating disorder specialist. She describes a woman who was getting help for eating disorder recovery. The woman had such a low body weight, with associated health issues, that the dietitian says she “needs[ed] to gain weight immediately.” But instead of following guidance from her care team that would have her gaining a pound a week, she secretly put herself on a reverse diet protocol. By adding just 50 calories each week to the too-low amount she was already eating, it took her three months to gain a whole pound of body mass—basically delaying her recovery by three months.

And here’s where I think we need to take a closer look at why reverse dieting posts are so popular in corners of social media that are focused on weight loss. While eating more sounds healthier—it’s a good start!—following a strict reverse diet is just another way of restricting.

Reverse dieting is sometimes just a way to restrict more

Let’s say, as in many of the examples on TikTok, that you are somebody currently eating 1,200 calories (officially a starvation diet) and no longer losing weight. Even if you are a small woman who never exercises—maybe because you don’t have the energy?—a healthy amount of daily calories will likely be 1,600 or more. So you’re supposed to eat 1,250 next week? And then 1,300 the week after that? At that rate, it would take eight weeks to get you up to the number that should be mere maintenance for you. Even if you don’t have an eating disorder, you’re creating the same problem for yourself as the ED patient in the dietitian’s case study.

What’s even more concerning to me is that 50 or even 100 calories is an extremely precise amount. If I’m aiming to eat 2,000 calories a day, maybe some days I’ll have 1,950 and some days I’ll have 2,100. Over time it balances out. But if you’re trying to hit exactly 1,850 and not 1,900 (because 1,900 is next week’s target) you’ll have to track your food meticulously. This is the kind of lifestyle where you’ll be weighing your toast before and after you spread the peanut butter, and you won’t want to eat at a restaurant, because how many calories are in each menu item? What if they’re heavy handed with the sauce?

In my scroll through #reversedieting TikTok, I found women saying that they had to miss out on family meals and deal with concern from their friends during their reverse diet. Clearly, they have not taken a step very far out of diet-land. For these folks, it actually seems like the “reverse” is essentially a way of extending their diet. You could be eating at maintenance for those eight weeks, but you’re restricting instead. And then what? Reverse dieting is often described as a way of increasing your calorie burn so you can diet again.

Even when the influencers show themselves gaining muscle and eating genuinely healthy numbers of calories (assuming that the numbers they cite are true), it’s still all couched in language around leanness and thinness, and features photos of their abs. Prioritizing leanness even while gaining muscle is some backwards-ass shit. It’s okay to not be able to see your abs while you are trying to make yourself bigger. As strongman JF Caron famously put it, “abs is not a thing of power. Is just a sign you don’t eat enough.”