chicken dawg from bubble rubbleA strange dog-like monster named Chicken Dawg just might be the best friend a kid could have.  At least one who wants to be smart about being active – and likes to play cool video games.  Floating about under the sea in the Playnormous game, Bubble Rubble,  Chicken Dawg must be directed by the cursor to pop only the bubbles that contain the name of an aerobic activity. Sounds straight-forward – and fun!

At first the students who were playing it with me got tripped up by exercise that built muscles (strength) but wasn’t aerobic. Ohhhhh, they chimed and got busy on round two. None were confused by the sedentaryactivity bubbles but, ooops, sometimes old Chicken Dawg bumped in to one of those bubbles on the way to “gymnastics” or “tennis.”

The unusual thing about the students that were playing the game with me was that they were moving the cursor with their feet! Yes, they had a FootPOWR computer mouse on the floor. As they moved left and right, up and down on the FootPOWR the cursor moved as well. Sometimes they did move Chicken Dawg less than accurately – at first.  It was a bit more challenging to get to the right bubbles in the alotted time when they were FootGaming so we threw in a little math.

The students played Bubble Rubble with the regular mouse and then played the same level game with the FootPOWR.  After ten students did this we started averaging.  The average score with the conventional mouse (usually the higher score) minus the FootGaming score left us the bonus score.  We totaled all of the differences(bonus scores) and then averaged the total.  We then simply gave that number (105 that day) as a bonus to the students who used the FootPOWR.

It was lots of fun watching the students hunt down examples of aerobic exercise while doing aerobic exercise.  Teachers – best of all there is a full complement of lessons plans on the Playnormous website just for you.  Send us photos if you’d like or add your comments or questions.

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For some time, researchers have known that exercise changes the structure of the brain and affects thinking. Ten years ago scientists at the Salk Institute in California published the groundbreaking finding that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells. What sort of exercise is most beneficial. Should it be aerobic? What about weight lifting? And are the cognitive improvements permanent or fleeting?

Other recent studies provide some preliminary answers. In an experiment published in the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, 21 students at the University of Illinois were asked to memorize a string of letters and then pick them out from a list flashed at them. Then they were asked to do one of three things for 30 minutes — sit quietly, run on a treadmill or lift weights — before performing the letter test again.  The students were noticeably quicker and more accurate on the retest after they ran compared with the other two options.

“There seems to be something different about aerobic exercise,” Charles Hillman, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Illinois and an author of the study, says.

Similarly, in other work by scientists at the University of Illinois, elderly people were assigned a six-month program of either stretching exercises or brisk walking. The stretchers increased their flexibility but did not improve on tests of cognition. The brisk walkers did. Why should exercise need to be aerobic to affect the brain?

“It appears that various growth factors must be carried from the periphery of the body into the brain to start a molecular cascade there,” creating new neurons and brain connections, says Henriette van Praag, an investigator in the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging. For that to happen, “you need a fairly dramatic change in blood flow,” like the one that occurs when you run or cycle or swim. Weight lifting, on the other hand, stimulates the production of “growth factors in the muscles that stay in the muscles and aren’t transported to the brain,” van Praag says.

Researchers are finding that brisk walking or running is more intense and leads to improvements in “muscle aerobic capacity,” and this increased aerobic capacity, in turn, affects the brain more than something that is less strenuous for the individual.

Do we have to really go outside our aerobic “comfort zone” in order to gain the cognitive benefits of exercise? Researchers conclude that any form of regular exercise, if it is aerobic, should be able to maintain or even increase our brain functions. Give it a try, and stay with the physical activity.  Your entire wellness will benefit along with your cognition.

It’s long been known that aerobic exercise can enhance the health and function of our brain.

Seniors eagerly seek something to take to help prevent memory loss, depression or  reduction in the ability to concentrate fully.  Some supplements can help those things, but there is one prescription that is more proven, and consistently helpful. It’s called exercise.
Evidence is mounting that physical exercise is good for the brain as well as the body. The good news: Regular physical activity invites long term, neurologic benefits.
It turns out that aerobic exercise slows the loss of gray matter, the part of the brain that atrophies as we age. This is one way exercise keeps us mentally young. Gray matter makes up the part of the brain that allows for processing of information. Research shows that the more dense the gray matter is in a particular region of the brain, the more intelligence or skill the brain’s owner is likely to have.
While such aerobic exercise like brisk walking, exergaming at an aerobic heart rate or using the elliptical machine prevents brain aging, scientists have found that anaerobic exercise, such as working out with weights, stimulates the creation of new brain cells in the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Many people think that the brain stops growing by adulthood, but new nerve cells continue to be generated  throughout our lives. Exercise can help stimulate the growth of such cells, which are essential to learning.
There are other ways in which exercise builds up our ability to defend ourselves against neurologic decline. Exercise causes levels of a substance called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) to increase. BDNF has been called “Miracle-Gro for the brain” by Harvard Psychiatrist John J Ratey, MD in his book “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” because it helps nerve cells transmit information better. In fact, low levels of BDNF are associated with depression; so increasing BDNF through exercise can be a natural antidepressant in a more permanent way than that surge of endorphins.
Play some brain games, stay social, continue to learn through life – but if you want to give neurologic decline the 1-2 punch, lace on your shoes and enjoy regular physical activity that is specific to your age and condition.  Seniors love Silver Sneakers and appropriate circuit classes.  If you think you’re feeling smarter over time, you’ll be 100% right!
People spend enormous resources investigating and purchasing supplements that have far less evidence supporting their use in preventing neurological decline than does simple exercise.
Everyone knows that walking limbers the aging body, but did you know it keeps the mind supple as well?
Research shows that walking can actually boost the connectivity within brain circuits, which tends to diminish as the grey hairs multiply.
“Patterns of connectivity decrease as we get older,” said Dr. Arthur F. Kramer, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“Networks aren’t as well connected to support the things we do, such as driving,” he said. “But we found as a function of aerobic fitness, the networks became more coherent.”
Kramer’s walking study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, tracked 70 adults from 60 to 80 years old over the course of a year. A toning, stretching, strengthening group served as a control against which to evaluate the previously sedentary walkers.
“Individuals in the walking group, the aerobics training group, got by far the largest benefits,” he said, and not just physically.
“We also measured brain function,” said Kramer, whose team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain networks. A group of 20-to-30-year olds were tested for comparison.
“The aerobic group also improved in memory, attention and a variety of other cognitive processes,” Kramer said. “As the older people in the walking group became more fit, the coherence among different regions in the networks increased and became similar to those of the 20-yr olds,” Kramer explained.
Sometimes people don’t walk as often or as much as they could for optimal benefit.  It often takes a diversionary task or novel endeavor to get people to put one foot in front of the other – or in the case of FootGaming – one foot up and then the other.  Adding the fun-factor of casual games or the cognitive practice of great “brain games” to a bi-pedal experience could result in lots more steps per day.  This is a great place to begin the “walk” toward a supple and well-functioning mind.
May 16, 2010 – (this is a summary of the full article from PopCap.com) PopCap Games, the worldwide leader in casual video games,  announced that preliminary results of a new study being conducted by East Carolina University’s Psychophysiology Lab have identified improvements in cognitive function through the playing of “casual” video games such as Bejeweled® and Peggle™. (PopCap Games, maker of the aforementioned games used in the study, did not underwrite the study.)
The study explores the effects of the games on subjects’ short-term cognitive acuity. In each instance, sizable improvements were identified in the performance of the experimental group as compared to the control group.
Dr. Carmen Russoniello, Director of the Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic at ECU, presented initial data and analysis from the study on May 26th at the 6th annual Games for Health Conference in Boston. I was fortunate to have been able to be there in the full conference room as Dr. Russoniello presented his findings.  His talk resonated with the audience, in fact, the line of people wanting to speak with him afterward stretched down the hall and out the door.
“The initial results of the study are very intriguing, in that they suggest that the ‘active participation’ required while playing a casual video game like Bejeweled provides an opportunity for mental exercise that more passive activities, like watching television, do not,” said Russoniello. “Future applications could include prescriptive applications using casual video games to potentially stave off Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-type disorders.”
We at FootGaming are especially delighted to hear this report. In schools, in the workplace and at senior centers we have been inviting FootGamers to play Bejeweled, Bejeweled Twist, Peggle, Zuma and Bookworm adventure while they are being active and balancing on the active FootPOWR mouse. This research solidifies the observations and notions we have had.
More than 40 test subjects have participated in the study so far, with dozens more being included by the study’s completion. Measurements were achieved through tracking of Electroencephalography (EEG) brain waves as well as subjects’ participation in the standardized Trail Making Test™ parts A and B. Both cognitive response time (the speed with which a subject completes a task) and executive function (the frequency of correctly completing parts of the task) were tracked. Those subjects who played Bejeweled or Peggle for short (30 minute) periods showed an 87% improvement in cognitive response time and a 215% increase in executive functioning when compared to a control group. According to ECU, these improvements in overall cognitive acuity are comparable to changes recorded after other types of cognitive interventions such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and cognitive remediation therapy.
“Video games with more complex rules and controls, and more sophisticated or detailed imagery — so-called ‘hardcore’ video games — might provide similar cognitive benefits for many people,” said Russoniello. “But those games take significantly longer to learn to play and appeal to a considerably narrower subset of the overall population, especially older consumers. In our experience, ‘casual’ video games are ideal both in terms of their accessibility and ease of understanding and because they appeal to nearly everyone.”

PopCap Games, the worldwide leader in casual video games, today announced that preliminary results of a new study being conducted by East Carolina University’s Psychophysiology Lab have identified improvements in cognitive function through the playing of “casual” video games such as Bejeweled® and Peggle™. (PopCap Games, maker of the aforementioned games used in the study, did not underwrite the study.) The study, which has been underway for nearly six months and will be completed later this year, involves dozens of U.S. consumers age 50 and older, and explores the effects of the games on subjects’ short-term cognitive acuity. In each instance, sizable improvements were identified in the performance of the experimental group as compared to the control group.Dr. Carmen Russoniello, Director of the Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic at ECU, is presenting initial data and analysis from the study today at the 6th annual Games for Health Conference in Boston. Full study results will be submitted this fall for publication in the peer-reviewed journal Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback.”The initial results of the study are very intriguing, in that they suggest that the ‘active participation’ required while playing a casual video game like Bejeweled provides an opportunity for mental exercise that more passive activities, like watching television, do not,” said Russoniello. “Future applications could include prescriptive applications using casual video games to potentially stave off Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-type disorders.”More than 40 test subjects have participated in the study so far, with dozens more being included by the study’s completion. Measurements were achieved through tracking of Electroencephalography (EEG) brain waves as well as subjects’ participation in the standardized Trail Making Test™ parts A and B. Both cognitive response time (the speed with which a subject completes a task) and executive function (the frequency of correctly completing parts of the task) were tracked. Those subjects who played Bejeweled or Peggle for short (30 minute) periods showed an 87% improvement in cognitive response time and a 215% increase in executive functioning when compared to a control group. According to ECU, these improvements in overall cognitive acuity are comparable to changes recorded after other types of cognitive interventions such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and cognitive remediation therapy.”Video games with more complex rules and controls, and more sophisticated or detailed imagery — so-called ‘hardcore’ video games — might provide similar cognitive benefits for many people,” said Russoniello. “But those games take significantly longer to learn to play and appeal to a considerably narrower subset of the overall population, especially older consumers. In our experience, ‘casual’ video games are ideal both in terms of their accessibility and ease of understanding and because they appeal to nearly everyone.”

We love our favorite television series, movies on demand are great – and it’s compelling to play our video games for hours.  Like anything else – we have a choice in how we enjoy those pursuits.  We can stand, sit on a fitness ball or take hourly activity breaks during TV watching.  We can use a FootPOWR while playing video and brain games.  Why would we make that choice?

In April’s American Journal of Preventive Medicine a new study (Television and Screen-Based Activity and Mental Well-Being in Adults) added more support that watching too much television can have an adverse affect on the brain. It isn’t only about the “screen” entertainment.  Sedentary leisure choices deliver results none of us want – read on!

The study examined the connection between recreational sedentary behavior (based on TV- and screen-based entertainment) and mental health.

The study was conducted by reviewing the survey data of 3920 men and women from the 2003 Scottish Health Survey. This sample group was given the General Health Questionnaire which contained a mental health component (a 12-Item Short-Form Survey) which was administered to obtain information on their respective mental health. Self-reported TV- and screen-based entertainment viewing time, physical activity, and physical function was also measured.

Approximately a quarter of the participants in the study engaged in at least four hours a day of watching screen-based entertainment. After all other data points were factored out, participants in this group had the highest instances of mental health problems. This led the researchers to conclude that this type of leisure time activity is independently associated with poorer mental health scores than the participants that watched less television.

Why not make the active choice, like 88 year old Lou in the photo above?  More and more research is pointing towards the benefits of getting off the couch and partaking in activities that engage both your body and your brain. Explore the ExerBrainGames blog and the FootGaming website for lots of ideas.

Our featured game of the day is “Dance of the Fireflies” from HAPPY Neuron.

Dr Cynthia Phelps recently posted one of the most clever ads – was it an ad? – for the science of brains that I’ve ever seen.  It’s from a company I hadn’t heard of before, NeuroFocus. So early on friday morning I was absolutely entertained by a topic I want to learn more about – neuro marketing.  Take a look at the video called, “Listen to Your Brain.” It’s 4 minutes of clever audio and visuals with a point.  I want their agency and videographer team to invent something like that for ExerBrainGames – no doubt!