These have the greatest effect on cognitive function.
Many habits contribute to poor brain health, but four areas can have the most influence. They are too much sitting, lack of socializing, inadequate sleep, and chronic stress.
“The good news is that they also can be the easiest to change,” says Rudolph Tanzi, director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit and co-director of the McCance Center for Brain Health at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
Too much sitting
The average adult sits for six-and-a-half hours per day, and all this chair time does a number on the brain. A 2018 study in PLOS One found sitting too much is linked to changes in a section of the brain essential to memory. Researchers used MRI scans to look at the medial temporal lobe (MTL), a brain region that makes new memories, in people ages 45 to 75. They then compared the scans with the average number of hours per day the people sat. Those who sat the longest had thinner MTL regions. According to the researchers, MTL thinning can be a precursor to cognitive decline and dementia.
Do this: Tanzi recommends moving after 15 to 30 minutes of sitting. “Set an ongoing timer on your phone as a reminder.” Make your movements active. Walk around the house, do push-ups against the kitchen counter, bang out several squats or lunges, or take a quick power walk around the neighborhood.
Lack of socializing
Loneliness is linked to depression and a higher risk for Alzheimer’s and can accelerate cognitive decline. A July 2021 study in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B found that less socially active people lose more of the brain’s grey matter, the outer layer that processes information.
Do this: It’s been a challenge to stay socially engaged during COVID, but Tanzi says you don’t have to interact with many people to reap benefits. “Find two or three people with whom you basically can share anything,” he says. Make this group your social pod. Text or call them regularly or set up a weekly Zoom cocktail hour (alcohol not required). “You want meaningful and mentally stimulating interactions, so choose people you care about and who care about you,” says Tanzi.
According to the CDC, one-third of adults don’t get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep. Research in the December 2018 issue of Sleep found that cognitive skills — such as memory, reasoning, and problem solving — decline when people sleep fewer than seven hours per night.
Do this: Don’t focus on getting more sleep. A better approach is to give yourself more time to sleep. “Make yourself go to bed an hour earlier than usual,” says Tanzi. “This will help cut down on late nights and give your brain and body extra time to get enough sleep.” If you wake up, give your mind time to relax. “Try reading, but avoid watching TV or a laptop, which can be stimulating,” says Tanzi. “Even if you are awake for a while, you still have that extra hour to make up for it.”
Chronic stress can kill brain cells and shrink the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for memory and learning. A major stress trigger for older adults is a “my-way-or-highway” approach to everything, says Tanzi. “This high expectation mindset can trigger negative reactions that raise stress levels whenever things don’t go your way.”
Do this: Be flexible with your reactions. When you sense you are about to get upset, take some deep breaths and remind yourself that you don’t always know what is best, and accept that other approaches might be fine. Also, calm yourself by repeating to yourself the mantra, “I’m all right, right now.” “Taming your ego can cut off stress before it gets out of control,” says Tanzi.
- Reprinted from Harvard Men’s Health Watch
Do you have any other ways you keep your brain active? Please share them with our readers.
I play Wordle, I do jigsaws on-line, I do crosswords and Sudoku and I write every day, mainly short stories.
Fantastic! Your cognitive reserve will be responding and growing every time you approach even one of these challenging tasks. Well done, you!
I do Line Dancing once a week, Tai Chi weekly when we have a teacher!
I have just retired from working in our village shop where I have been working for almost 20 years, I walk a lot around the Village altho I do not have a garden any more (am looking into that!!!) and I much prefer to be outdoors for as long as possible each day. A good way to walk is to park the car away from where you are shopping and walk to and fro with or without carrying groceries!!!! In short I prefer to be outside rather than indoors and am now over 90!!!!!
I DO all the bad things :) No hope for me lol
I do Wordle daily, candy crush, free cell solitaire and word puzzle . Lumosity a number of times per week. I go for a 3 km walk most days, do quilting and gardening. I make artisan breads and Also have friends over and go to movies with friends . My husband has advanced dementia and is now in care so I go and feed him his main meal 3-4 x a week. I think it’s important to kick start my own life now after spending years doing 24 hr care at home.
Of course there is! A tiny change in just ONE will set you on the improving memory path. You can do it!!
Absolutely!! And you are doing just that in all the right ways. Well done ….
What a fantastic record of achievement! No wonder you are doing so well cognitively – and I know you care about the other residents, too. Keep it up!
I do Wordle, online jigsaws, quirkle and other strategy games but once in a while. I am an author so writing is a significant activity.
I do sit a lot – doing about 7000 steps four times a week.
Covid created the stress. Coming out of it now, hopefully.
I recently moved to a new suburb and the move I found very stressful and leaving behind well-known and loved neighbours and friends. I have ”made it my business” to say ”Hello” to all those I see from my new home but have found children to be the GREAT ”introducers”! Through delightful neighbourhood children I have met so many other people now. Children and animals are always great conversation initiators I’ve found.
Well done – that takes courage and your plan to ‘learn’ a new neighborhood is working well.
These are all excellent brain activators and you are correct, writing is a significant activity that requires many areas of the brain. I believe we are all emerging from the Covid gloom … fingers crossed!
I play Bridge twice a week and try to walk each day. However, I feel I must make more effort with exercise.
I also do the Code Cracker in the newspaper each day.
I still work full time (albeit at home at the moment). I am doing a Proofreading and Editing course through NZIBS and have loved every minute. The challenge of learning again!
I also do yoga everyday, mainly stretching and balance, walk in my tea breaks and lunch breaks, and play lawn bowls on the weekend.
And of course where would I be without my crosswords and Suduko!
Well done – your dendrites will be well and truly growing!
Code crackers are a fantastic brain challenge because your working memory is constantly gathering up a range of possible matches. And Bridge requires tip-top mental alertness. Well done!
The way I keep my brain active are varied. For example I merge activities I would not otherwise find time for or actually feel a reluctance to. Instead of hanging around for the washing cycle to finish I hang out with the machine with the last 10 minutes and do balancing exercises. (That pesky flamingo trick comes to mind)! When doing a crossword from the paper I also do an exercise with my least used hand. Can you remember the sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”? This sentence uses all the letters of the alphabet. With reading I take a little time to read backwards and upside down . I also occasionally pause to remember what I have just read from the paragraph. Out walking I merge walking on the solid white line on the side of the road. I take time mid afternoon to gaze, breathe and reflect which brings calmness and harmony to any day. I call it my delayed gratification time as from morning to mid afternoon I am planned and organised. Visiting and welcoming friends is lovely and biking with a bunch of friends is good too. I also like that word “ actively retired” that was mentioned in the questionnaire recently .