Sustainability Day

By Victoria Moussot
March 5 2017

This year STAC’s Sustainability Day focused on “Sustaining Mental Health.” A panel of presenters, including Dr. Jasmin Hutchinson and Dr. Anna Mackay-Brandt, discussed two key factors to sustaining mental health. The presentation focused on music and a technique called SHARP, both of which are based on scientific studies of brain functions.

Dr. Jasmin Hutchinson, Associate Professor of Exercise Science and Sport Studies at Springfield College, MA, presented “Can’t Stop the Feeling! The Role Music in Exercise and Health.” According to Dr. Hutchinson, neurological studies have indicated that humans are hardwired to interpret and react emotionally to music. That is why music can be used as medicine in fields, such as Music Therapy to treat stress, depression, and anxiety. The connection between emotion and music occurs when music stimulates the brain region that processes emotions.

All of us manipulate our emotions by listening to music. Do you ever find yourself jamming to the music when you work out? We all know that we pump up the volume to affect our mood. This is known as Attentional Narrowing and Auditory Motor Synchronization. Music can divert or buffer the feelings of pain and fatigue during exercise, refocusing attention towards completing an exercise without feeling the negative side effects. Auditory Motor Synchronization helps maintain a consistent pace, which optimizes exercise and increases the efficiency of movement.

On the other hand, when we study, music can become a distraction. Instead of pumping up the volume, the SHARP technique is proven to be more effective. This mnemonic device was created to help people combat this loss of functions.

See it and say it: visualize the information and say it aloud.
Habits: perform a task that is overlearned.
Associations: make connections between information.
Records: write a list because you’ll be more likely to remember the information later.
Practice retrieval: continually test yourself to recall information.

At the NKI Rockland, Dr. Anna Mackay-Brandt is the lead Neuropsychologist and a Research Scientist in the Outpatient Research Department. Her research focuses on cognitive changes associated with aging, plasticity of cognitive function, and factors that can improve or preserve the cognitive abilities in older adults. In her presentation, “Lifespan brain-behavior relationship to advance and mental health research: The open data-sharing NKI-Rockland Sample Initiative,” Dr. Mackay explained how cognitive ability decreases as a person ages. When examining an older brain, there is less tissue and more space compared to a younger brain. This difference affects a person’s perception, numerical, and verbal functions. Participants in this study were assigned tasks like the Flanker Task and Fitness Training and Cortical Recruitment. The Flanker Task measured effectivity and interference in the brain by having participants press a button that coordinates the direction of an arrow. The Fitness Training and Cortical Recruitment test randomly split two groups of older adults, assigning one to stretching and the other to exercise. This study revealed that the group that exercised showed an increase in brain capability to deal with interference.

Mental health affects every aspect of our lives. It is an important part of our well-being because it affects how we feel, think, and handle stress. In selecting music that energizes us, we choose to exercise instead of vegging out. In applying the SHARP method while we study, we prepare our brains to perform effective work.