Healthy Living Improves Executive Function

Healthy Living Improves Executive Function

Living a healthy lifestyle will likely help you live longer. But new research suggests living a healthier lifestyle could also increase executive function, which is the ability to exert self-control, set and meet goals, resist temptation, and solve problems.

If you stop and think about it, it makes sense. Resisting donuts and opting for kale, after all, takes a fair amount of self-control – as does getting up early to exercise.

Over time, suggests researchers, these behaviors reinforce one another in a sort of positive feedback loop.

Using data collected from 4,555 adults through the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, researchers analyzed the relationship between physical activity and executive function, adjusting for other variables such as age, gender, education, wealth and illness, and found evidence that the relationship between the two is bidirectional (Allan et al., 2016).

Specifically, individuals with poor executive function showed subsequent decreases in their rates of participation in physical activity and older adults who engaged in sports and other physical activities tended to retain high levels of executive function over time (Allen et al., 2016).

While this study focused on physical activity and its relationship to executive function, the researchers noted that a positive feedback loop between executive function and eating nutritious foods is quite plausible. Similarly, it is likely that negative feedback loops also exist, where unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking or drinking too much alcohol will be both a result of and a predictor of declining executive function (Allan et al., 2016).

This might help explain why executive function typically declines with age, as older people may become more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors like remaining sedentary and less likely to maintain healthy but effortful behaviors like taking prescribed medication regularly.

The up side, however, is that the longer one can maintain high executive function, the longer and more easily that person can stave off behavior that will be detrimental to their health. Dr. Julia Allan explains, “People who make a change to their health behavior, like participating in physical activity, eating less processed food, or consuming more fruits and vegetables, can see an improvement in their brain function over time and increase their chances of remaining healthy as they age” (Allan, 2016).

With the world’s population of elderly folks to hit 1.5 billion by 2050, the connection between executive function – and specifically how it is mediated by and helps to mediate our health – could have major implications.

Related Online Continuing Education (CE) Courses:

Executive Functioning in AdultsExecutive Functioning in Adults is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that provides strategies to help adults overcome executive functioning deficits.

As human beings, we have a built-in capacity to accomplish goals and meet challenges through the use of high-level cognitive functions called “executive functioning” skills. These are the skills that help us to decide which activities and tasks we will pay attention to and which ones we will choose to ignore or postpone.

Executive skills allow us to organize our thinking and behavior over extended periods of time and override immediate demands in favor of longer-term goals. These skills are critical in planning and organizing activities, sustaining attention, and persisting until a task is completed. Individuals who do not have well developed executive functioning skills tend to have difficulty starting and attending to tasks, redirecting themselves when a plan is not working, and exercising emotional control and flexibility. This course offers a wide variety of strategies to help adults overcome such difficulties and function more effectively. Course #31-08 | 2018 | 61 pages | 20 posttest questions

Executive Functioning: Teaching Children Organizational SkillsExecutive Functioning: Teaching Children Organizational Skills is a 4-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that will enumerate and illustrate multiple strategies and tools for helping children overcome executive functioning deficits and improve their self-esteem and organizational abilities.

Executive functioning skills represent a key set of mental assets that help connect past experience with present action. They are fundamental to performing activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space. Conversely, executive functioning deficits can significantly disrupt an individual’s ability to perform even simple tasks effectively. Although children with executive functioning difficulties may be at a disadvantage at home and at school, adults can employ many different strategies to help them succeed. Included are techniques for planning and prioritizing, managing emotions, improving communication, developing stress tolerance, building time management skills, increasing sustained attention, and boosting working memory. Course #40-42 | 2017 | 76 pages | 25 posttest questions

Alzheimer’s Disease: A Practical GuideAlzheimer’s Disease: A Practical Guide is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that offers healthcare professionals a basic foundation in Alzheimer’s disease prevention, diagnosis, and risk management.

This course will present practical information to aid healthcare professionals as they interact with clients who are diagnosed with any of the many types of dementia. We will review what is normal in the aging process, and what is not; diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer’s disease; testing cognition and gene testing; risk factors; and clinical research. We will then discuss the struggle caregivers face and provide strategies for how best to support them.

The next section will provide practical guidance for caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease, including daily care activities, keeping the person safe, and unwanted behaviors. Next we will review prevention and compensation strategies to help people protect their cognitive health as they age, including modifiable risk factors that have the potential to reduce the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease. A final section on protecting our elders from scams and how to find reputable resources for information is included. Course #31-12 | 2018 | 56 pages | 20 posttest questions

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Our online courses provide instant access to the course materials and CE test. Successful completion of the online CE test (80% required to pass, 3 chances to take) and course evaluation are required to earn a certificate of completion. Click here to learn more. Have a question? Contact us. We’re here to help!

Professional Development Resources is a nonprofit educational corporation 501(c)(3) organized in 1992. We are approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners; and are CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).

Target Audience: PsychologistsCounselorsSocial WorkersMarriage & Family Therapist (MFTs)Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs)Occupational Therapists (OTs)Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs)School Psychologists, and Teachers

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What is OCD?

Course excerpt from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

“What if . . . . . ?” “What if I left the coffee pot on?” “What if I made the wrong decision and someone gets hurt?” Did these thoughts cause your heart to beat a little faster?

Did you go check the coffee pot or let the thought go? Did you change your mind when you doubted the choice you made?

OCDObsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is the doubting disease. The doubts never end. If you are treating a patient with OCD, before you know it, you are caught up in it. You hear the person obsessively analyzing hypothetical and catastrophic outcomes and you are made to think of the infinite minutiae of how germs and safety issues could possibly ruin people’s lives. You may try to reason with his/her irrational thoughts, but it won’t work. The truth is: anything is possible. Germs do cause illness, but those without OCD handle and touch things without a thought about whom else has handled them and what they might have left on them. Even though car accidents happen on a daily basis, we drive ourselves to where we need to go anyway. That is why when you are listening to a person’s symptoms, it is crucial to understand that the content of obsessions is not important. Obsessions can even change from time to time, rendering what seemed to be so urgent then insignificant now. The common denominator of OCD is the doubt.

OCD can be characterized as a glitch in the brain’s frontal cortex, home of executive functioning. The executive function is responsible for cognitive processes such as planning, working memory, attention, making judgments and moral decisions, problem solving, verbal reasoning, inhibition, mental flexibility, task switching, and initiation and monitoring of actions. When functioning under normal circumstances, the brain sends messages to which physiological responses are appropriately activated. With OCD, however, urgent messages are sent under the same circumstances in which nothing is wrong or threatening but compel the person with OCD into action just to make sure. How does this happen?

Neurophysiologically, research shows that during an OCD episode, a specific neurocircuit gets stuck in an obsessive loop. While there is no actual evidence of imminent danger, the person’s orbital frontal cortex kicks into alert, like someone pulling a false fire alarm, which sets a loop in motion that compels him/her to find the fire and put it out. It starts with the cingulate gyrus and transmits to the striatum (caudate nucleus and putamen), then to the globus pallidus, on to the thalamus then back to the frontal cortex. Highly anxious and with a sense of urgency, the person checks all possible places for the fire that isn’t there, which only intensifies the obsessive need to keep checking. The problem is that there is no way to prove a negative. No matter how hard the person tries, there is no way to prove a negative and find something that isn’t there.

Click here to learn more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that reviews the diagnosis, assessment and treatment strategies for OCD. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by intrusive, unwanted, and anxiety-provoking thoughts, images, impulses and rituals that are performed to alleviate the accompanying distress. Because OCD is a heterogeneous disorder with several subtypes, assessing, diagnosing, and treating it can be challenging. Further, the presentation of varying symptoms may be considered to be OC Related Disorders. Being able to make differential diagnoses and treatment recommendations are essential in clinical work with the many patients that present with the spectrum of OC problems. Specific behavioral strategies have been developed and validated in the literature that target the various manifestations of OCD and related disorders. The first part of the course offers information on the neurobiology, diagnosis and assessment tools, including the various subtypes, and highlights important topics to be taken into consideration during the process. Emotional and cognitive factors are outlined that seem to play important roles in the diagnosis and the course of episodes. The next section is dedicated to describing the clinical factors of and differential aspects of the OC Related Disorders and their prevalence. A case study follows that outlines the precipitating events, assessment, and behavioral treatment of a college student who is struggling to maintain and overcome her OCD. The final section describes effective treatment and coping strategies and augmentations that help to maintain treatment gains. Course #30-95 | 2017 | 60 pages | 20 posttest questions

This online course provides instant access to the course materials (PDF download) and CE test. After enrolling, click on My Account and scroll down to My Active Courses. From here you’ll see links to download/print the course materials and take the CE test (you can print the test to mark your answers on it while reading the course document). Successful completion of the online CE test (80% required to pass, 3 chances to take) and course evaluation are required to earn a certificate of completion. Click here to learn more.

Professional Development Resources is approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); and the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678).