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Optimizing Brain Fitness

Optimizing Brain Fitness

Professor Richard Restak M.D.
The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences
Course No.  1651
Course No.  1651
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Course Overview

About This Course

12 lectures  |  29 minutes per lecture

With its up to 500 trillion synaptic connections, your brain is easily the most powerful machine in the world. These connections are what create your thoughts, what drive your emotions, and what control your behaviors. Even more incredibly: This amazing machine is constantly changing through a process known as brain plasticity. And you can take advantage of this process to improve and enhance your brain's jaw-dropping powers—at any age.

Brain plasticity, the secret to optimizing your brain's fitness, is one of the most revolutionary discoveries in modern neuroscience. While it was traditionally thought that our brains were fully formed by adulthood, the truth is that our life experiences continually shape and mold our brains in fascinating ways. In fact, optimal brain fitness is the gateway to improvement in a range of areas, including

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With its up to 500 trillion synaptic connections, your brain is easily the most powerful machine in the world. These connections are what create your thoughts, what drive your emotions, and what control your behaviors. Even more incredibly: This amazing machine is constantly changing through a process known as brain plasticity. And you can take advantage of this process to improve and enhance your brain's jaw-dropping powers—at any age.

Brain plasticity, the secret to optimizing your brain's fitness, is one of the most revolutionary discoveries in modern neuroscience. While it was traditionally thought that our brains were fully formed by adulthood, the truth is that our life experiences continually shape and mold our brains in fascinating ways. In fact, optimal brain fitness is the gateway to improvement in a range of areas, including

  • memory;
  • attention and focus;
  • learning and creativity; and
  • sensory acuity and fine motor skills.

Now, discover the secrets to increasing and expanding your brain's power to meet everyday challenges and enhance the quality of your life with Optimizing Brain Fitness, an engaging 12-lecture course that shows you how to take advantage of the basic principles of brain operation and build the brain you want to live with for the rest of your life. Delivered by Dr. Richard Restak, an award-winning teacher, practicing neurologist, and professor at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, these lectures are packed with vital information and research-based exercises you can perform every day to tap into your hidden mental potential.

Explore Your Brain's Most Important Functions

Optimizing Brain Fitness centers on the idea that your brain is a continual work in progress, one whose development depends on the best possible use of your brain's most important everyday functions. You explore many functions in these lectures, with a strong focus on three.

  • Attention: Optimal attention skills open the door to top-notch performance in math, reading, and auditory and visual memory. They provide you with the basis for learning what to focus on and what to ignore, and they also coordinate the brain networks that involve sensation, movement, emotions, and thought.
  • General memory: General memory facilitates the formation, activation, and retention of neurological circuits that contribute to your brain's optimal functioning. Memory is the veritable bedrock of superior brain health and serves as the basis of your personal identity.
  • Working memory: Working memory is linked with your IQ and is the first brain function to decline as you age. It is central to your ability to manipulate stored information and can easily be improved by practicing a series of simple exercises.

You'll also spend time delving into the neurology of motor skills, visual-spatial thinking, creativity, and more.

Engage in a Wealth of Delightful Exercises

Professor Restak proves that exercising your brain doesn't have to be a burden or a chore. Rather, it can be an exciting and eye-opening way to explore how the brain works and to discover your own brain's potential.

Dr. Restak has designed Optimizing Brain Fitness with a wealth of exercises, challenges, practice problems, and tests that will enhance and improve your brain's essential functions. Here is just a small sample of the enjoyable ways that you can improve your brain.

  • In one minute, name as many animals as you can without repeating them. You'll have to use your working memory to mentally eliminate animals you've already named. A desirable score is between 17 and 20 animals.
  • Close your eyes and envision the room around you, and then open them and check for accuracy. Repeat this memory-recall exercise and pay closer attention to smaller details, such as the number of magazines on a table.
  • Take a number of spices at random and set them on a table; then close your eyes and try to identify each of them by smell alone. Take this same approach by identifying spices in a meal that you're eating. Both exercises are great ways to sharpen your senses of smell and taste.

Winner of Georgetown University Medical School's Linacre Medal for Humanity and Medicine, Professor Restak is an accomplished neurologist, prolific author, frequent public lecturer for prestigious institutions, and—above all—a champion of brain fitness. Rooted in the startling new findings emerging from groundbreaking experiments and detailed research studies, his course is the perfect way to maintain or improve the health of the most important organ in your body.

Insightful, instructive, and undeniably fun, Optimizing Brain Fitness is an invaluable part of your personal tool kit for lasting health and wellness.

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12 Lectures
  • 1
    How Your Brain Works
    In order to best optimize your brain fitness, it's important to understand how the brain's circuitry works. After a brief introduction to the course, Professor Restak guides you through a range of intriguing topics, including the principles of brain operation, the organization of the brain, patterns of brain growth, and more. x
  • 2
    How Your Brain Changes
    Your brain and your intelligence can change throughout your life span. Here, look closer at the way changes in your brain can improve the way you function in your day-to-day life. Also, explore how a series of visual, sensory, and spatial exercises demonstrate the powerful effects of brain plasticity. x
  • 3
    Care and Feeding of the Brain
    You can optimize your brain function by paying attention to three key habits: what you eat, how well you sleep, and how much you exercise. Ponder the science behind this three-pronged approach to caring for your brain, and come away with helpful tips you can apply to your own lifestyle. x
  • 4
    Creativity and the Playful Brain
    What's the connection between daydreaming and creativity? What are four steps for increasing your creativity? Which puzzles are the best for optimizing your brain function—and how can you more efficiently solve them? Learn the answers to these and other questions in this fascinating lecture on creativity and the brain. x
  • 5
    Focusing Your Attention
    The basis of improving your memory: focusing your attention. Here, explore a range of topics, including the physiological effects of attention on your brain; the dangers of inattention; the benefits of enhanced attention; multitasking; exercises to improve your sustained attention, divided attention, and processing speed; and much more. x
  • 6
    Enhancing Your Memory
    In the first of three lectures devoted to memory, Dr. Restak proves just how essential memory is to your brain's optimal functioning. After surveying the details of memory and its roots in the hippocampus, learn ways to sharpen your sense memory and augment both your short-term and long-term general memory. x
  • 7
    Exercising Your Working Memory
    Focus now on working memory—the most important memory process of all and one that involves manipulating stored information. After an overview of the topic, dive into a series of engaging exercises that use your creativity, your powers of observation, and your heightened awareness to enhance and improve your working memory. x
  • 8
    Putting Your Senses to Work
    Imaginative memory techniques—such as mnemonic devices and personal associations—have been used to improve memory for over 1,000 years. Try your hand at some of them right here, including "chunking" numbers to aid in number recall, creating a vivid story to memorize words, drawing free-form designs, and playing mental chess. x
  • 9
    Enlisting Your Emotional Memory
    Turn now to an aspect of memory we don't usually consider when thinking about the subject: emotional memory. How did scientists uncover this specific aspect of memory? How does it actually work? And what kinds of playful exercises can you perform to help you relive the emotional experience of your past? x
  • 10
    Practicing for Peak Performance
    Exceptional performers aren't born with "superior brains." Rather, anyone—thanks to brain plasticity—can achieve high performance levels in an area of interest through deliberate practice. Focus here on two aspects of deliberate practice: remaining fully aware of what you're doing, and concentrating on the most difficult aspects of your performance. x
  • 11
    Taking Advantage of Technology
    Take a closer look at the impact of modern technology on how our brains function. You'll explore the positive and negative effects of electronic journals, personal computers, and more—with a lengthy discussion on the impact of one of today's most powerful and controversial influences on brain function: video games. x
  • 12
    Building Your Cognitive Reserve
    Professor Restak concludes his course with ways to immediately start optimizing your brain fitness. These include trying new and unexpected things, learning in an informal and self-directed manner, keeping things in perspective, opting to prioritize instead of multitask, developing an appreciation for art and music, and—surprisingly—preparing home-cooked meals. x

Lecture Titles

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Richard Restak
M.D. Richard Restak
The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences
Dr. Richard Restak is Clinical Professor of Neurology at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. He earned his M.D. from Georgetown University School of Medicine and completed his postgraduate training and residency at St. Vincent's Hospital, Georgetown University Hospital, and The George Washington University Hospital. Professor Restak also maintains an active private practice in neurology and neuropsychiatry in Washington, DC. Professor Restak's awards include the Chicago Neurosurgical Center's Decade of the Brain Award and Georgetown University Medical School's Linacre Medal for Humanity and Medicine. A former president of the American Neuropsychiatric Association, Professor Restak is the prolific author of 20 books on the human brain-4 of which were chosen as Main Selections of the Book of the Month Club-as well as numerous articles in national newspapers, including The New York Times and USA Today. Professor Restak has delivered lectures on neurology to prestigious institutions and associations around the world, including NASA, the National Security Agency, the CIA, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Brookings Institute.
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Rated 3.5 out of 5 by 55 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by More useful course than reviews indicate This is a short course and covering a subject like this is going to disappoint some but on the whole I found that it had a number of useful insights. I debated giving it fewer stars in some categories but in view of the number of negative reviews felt it needed more stars in order not to discourage those who might benefit. As for presentation I did not find it at all condescending but is low key and held my attention more than more dynamic presenters. The various methods discussed for improving memory do go quickly and not in depth but there are plenty of resources for this for those interested. Even one or two insights in this course provide enough value to justify spending six hours watching the course. For example, while he recognizes that Alzheimers has a genetic component for the majority without this defect the fact that those with higher levels of education are less prone to the disease is useful as is the fact that those who engage in continuous learning (even if not school based) will tend to help in preventing dementia that all of us fear as we get older. His comments on technology from internet to television and gaming seemed to me very well balanced pointing out the advantages as well as the disadvantages and dangers. And he backs up his views with his experience in neurology and studies which he discusses in such a conversational tone that sometimes you do not realized until later how much information he has imparted. Another example relates to E books or on screen reading. I have recently been doing research on why reading E books vs paper books is considerably slower. Studies have supported this disparity and raises issues of whether textbooks in E form are really better for students than the hardback version. My son, a tenured university professor, has noted that virtually all his students have chosen hardback books even when cheaper E versions of textbooks are available. Dr. Restak gives another reason for choosing paper versions and that is that studies are showing that learning is enhanced when using paper books versus E books. My son tells me that studies are also showing that classroom students tend to pass their courses at least 85% of the time versus only 15% for on line or other E style learning. While there may be various reasons for this result it may also involve the deficiencies of E reading. Do not take this as meaning I am opposed to E reading because I do that as well as reading hard and paperback books. And on line courses serve a useful purpose especially for highly motivated students. But it is good to know the limitations. Another area discussed is gaming and advantages and dangers of excessive gaming. Once more I found his approach well balanced. For those with young children or grandchildren faced with more and more technology understanding what helps and what may negatively affect brain development and what may actually be dangerous is worth knowing. While I understand the view of some who have given negative reviews to this course I found it surprisingly useful even though it can only skim the surface in 12 lectures. For those having an interest in the subject I hope you are not discouraged from ordering this course. It is one of several courses that I plan to watch again in the future. December 3, 2012
Rated 5 out of 5 by Fascinating and useful information... Dr. Restak is a fine speaker, with a soothing manner and voice. He is obviously someone who knows his field backwards and forwards, and is able to explain it to us very well. I really enjoyed all twelve lectures, and was surprised by some of the topics he discussed (such as "emotional memory") and I learned a lot. I knew nothing about this field before, watched the entire lecture series twice, one lecture per day, and I took notes. His long list of possible activities for us to use to increase or retain mental sharpness and "cognitive reserve", from learning math, playing card games with friends, to writing a letter to an earlier you from years ago, and trying to remember the events that led to how a run was scored in a baseball game (or a goal in a hockey game) are amazing and varied. There are lots of activities - enough for anyone to have some interesting ones to choose from. Note to instructor: I'm not sure I'll ever to able to juggle! May I suggest that when you watch these lectures, you relax and accept the lectures for what they are meant to be? If you can't accept, or sit still to listen to a lecturer over the age of 65, then you will lose out. If you worry about a little relaxing background noise rather than the message, then you will lose out. If you worry about the lecturer looking briefly at another camera, then you will lose out. If you are young and therefore not worried about Alzheimer's disease yet, then you will not understand why these lectures are so valuable. If you worry that someone else in the country may know more about this subject than Dr. Restak, then you will lose out. I think the 20 books he has written about the human brain, and his fine speaking ability, more than qualifies him to be the lecturer of this course. I urge you to pay attention to the many techniques and activities Dr. Restak mentions in these lecture, and try some that sound like fun. December 16, 2011
Rated 5 out of 5 by Everyday Tips & Tricks for "USING it or LOSING it" This course was so entertaining that I think I will watch it again. Dr. Restak teaches creative and playful "tricks" to exercise your brain on a daily basis. I've already used several of the "brain exercises" with friends and at other social gatherings, and I'm (all of a sudden) the life of the party! As Dr. Restak points out: that you're taking the first step by trying to learn something new by watching this course, and he is there to teach you how to keep your mind alive once the course is finished. September 17, 2011
Rated 5 out of 5 by Fun for the whole family I was very impressed with this new addition to TGC’s offerings current inventory on the brain. It is quite different from the other two courses (by Professors Norden and Wang). This one is much simpler to understand because it leaves out much of the jargon, the physical intricacies of neuroscience (neurons, dendrites, synapses, etc.), and details about how the brain functions. Instead it focuses on highly practical activities or games to build a bigger, better brain. In short, this course is about enriching your environment and lifestyle to optimize brain development; it’s appropriate for many ages; and the best part, there are many exercises to try with friends and family right after each lecture. Each lecture is introduced with a brief introduction to the topic (memory, senses, attention, creativity, etc.). It’s only a couple of minutes and you don’t need any background info about it because of the visuals. The technical aspect of the course is pretty much limited to “working memory utilizes the frontal lobes” and then nifty 3D visuals highlight the frontal lobes. Then you move on to a short summary of related experiments or research, many of which are very interesting. In most lectures, about 10- 15 minutes of each lecture is devoted to practical exercises, usually at least 3-4 of them, to toughen up the brain. Regarding the mental exercises, if you haven’t done them before, they can be embarrassingly difficult and you’ll feel intellectually challenged as you slowly fumble through spelling words backwards, do digit-span exercises to improve working memory, answer brain teasers, and recall information from pictures and other media. I did anyway. Guess I need more practice! Dr Restak gives a measured lecture. He isn’t very animated in the way of gestures or body language, but he’s more than adequate in his delivery. At times he uses some props like coins and cards. In the second half we start to learn more about Dr Restack and his family and cooking habits. I like it when TGC professors personalize content because I connect better with them. And the large number of visuals, animations, and movie clips mean the lecture’s over before you know it. My favorite lectures were on disc 2 because they were a bit more cognitively fulfilling. The lectures on creativity, peak performance, and technology were excellent. And I loved the story about F1 racer Juan Manuel Fangio. The lecture on Technology is especially important given the direction of education and the ubiquity of iPads, the Internet, and video games. It's really something to think about. I don’t have any big complaints. 1) There was a faint humming sound throughout as if the microphone was too sensitive and picked up the air vent. 2) Stock photos—way too many generic pics (but impressively, they are equal opportunity photos representing various ages, races, and genders). Optimizing Brain Fitness is definitely worth the time and money. And I highly recommend the exercises--they’re fun. May 1, 2011
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