Think Like an Olympian

rio2016For the last two weeks, the world has been watching athletes perform with superhuman-like ability at the Summer Olympics in Rio. From the television screen, the extraordinary feats of these competitors seem purely physical; but science tells us that much of their talents rely on what’s going on in their brains. In a past interview with the Dana Foundation, seven-time Olympic medalist Shannon Miller said:

The physical aspect of the sport can only take you so far. The mental aspect has to kick in, especially when you’re talking about the best of the best. In the Olympic Games, everyone is talented. Everyone trains hard. Everyone does the work. What separates the gold medalists from the silver medalists is simply the mental game.

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What We Can Learn from the Minds of Olympic Athletes: Q&A with John Krakauer, M.D.

Guest blog by Kayt Sukel


The famed Olympic torch is now burning strong in Rio de Janeiro. The 2016 Summer Olympics are under way, and the best athletes in the world have come to represent their respective countries and compete for the gold. Time and time again, sports commentators regale us with stories about the necessity of a good “mental” game to find success in high profile events like the Olympics–and the scientific research, though limited, appears to back that view [See our paper: “Mental Preparation of High-Level Athletes”]. But what is it specifically about the brains of these athletes that allows them to reach these levels? John Krakauer, M.D., a neurologist at the Johns Hopkins University who studies human sensorimotor learning and performance, speaks with us about what we can learn from the minds of Olympic athletes, whether super athletes should be considered geniuses, and how those findings may one day inform rehabilitation after stroke or brain injury.

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Healthy Vision Month Interview

We read countless articles on the importance of diet and exercise to keep our brains and bodies as healthy as possible. Proper eye care is something that is equally important but is often overlooked. In an effort to encourage everyone to make their eye health a priority, the National Eye Institute began promoting May as “National Healthy Vision Month.” While today is officially the last day of Healthy Vision Month, it’s important that we continue to take care of our eyes all year long.

Because exercise usually involves taking part in outdoor activities, we wanted to speak with an expert on tips for maintaining eye health while playing sports. Philip R. Rizzuto, M.D., is an ophthalmologist and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The Academy was founded in 1896 and is currently the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons.

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Professional Athletes and Mental Health

Last summer, Royce White, an aspiring professional basketball player, spoke candidly about his anxiety disorder before the National Basketball Association Draft. Most NBA teams recognized his talent but were hesitant to risk a draft pick on a player who admitted to, among other things, a fear of flying. The Houston Rockets took a chance, selecting White in the first round with the 16th overall pick.

We are more than two months into the NBA season and White hasn’t played a game. Earlier this week the Rockets announced they had suspended White for “refusing to provide services as required by his contract.”

White has said the Rockets are ignoring the advice of mental health professionals and that he won’t go to work until the experts, and not the Rockets, have final say on his medical decisions. It is an unfortunate situation but one that could spur positive changes in the way professional sports leagues deal with mental health issues.

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The Science and Impact of Traumatic Brain Injury

Planning on being in the D.C.-area on October 23? If so,
please join us at the American Association for the Advancement of Science
(AAAS) auditorium for the free public event, “The Science and Impact of Traumatic Brain Injury.” Part of the Neuroscience and Society Series co-sponsored by AAAS and
the Dana Foundation, the discussion will address current traumatic brain injury
(TBI) research, particularly in the context of sports and the military.

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