Lower Dementia Risk by Exercising Your Brain
“Use it or lose it” is the old adage, and it also applies to our brains. Numerous studies have shown that daily activity challenging your brain is good for your health and is associated with a lower risk of dementia.
These studies—and a number of others like it—are a reassurance that we don’t have to purchase special “brain building” products to protect our memory. Brain exercise isn’t just a matter of hard work. Neurologists have found that many activities we find pleasurable stimulate the growth of new cells and connections in the brain and lower the level of harmful proteins that lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Here are a few that might surprise you!
Caring for a pet. Contact with animals offers emotional benefits, encourages socialization and decreases stress. Dog owners have a built-in incentive to go for a brisk brain-boosting walk or two each day. And spending time with animals reduces loneliness, an emotion that is so stressful for we social creatures that it can damage our brains. Studies show that even watching fish in an aquarium lowers the level of the brain-damaging hormones in our body.
Good deeds. We humans are wired to take pleasure in helping others. Neurologists say that altruism—selfless acting for the good of others—is linked to a reduction in stress and depression, both of which are very bad for our brains.
Video games. While brain fitness programs are now a multibillion-dollar industry, even popular mainstream video games can be protective against cognitive decline. For example, a study in the Archives of Neurology showed that the popular Angry Birds game provides a good brain workout. And researchers from North Carolina State University found that playing the World of Warcraft online role-playing game improved cognitive function in senior test subjects.
Music. Neurologists continue to study the complex way music works across many areas of the brain. Music helps people with dementia access memories and even remember new material. A number of studies showed that childhood music lessons can protect us from memory loss later in life. And it’s never too late! So, buy a harmonica, take piano lessons, join a community choir or load up your music player with interesting new tunes to give your mind a stimulating boost.
Bingo. Last but not least, a new look at an old favorite! Activities professionals who work in nursing homes and senior centers sometimes complain about the “bingo stereotype,” but research from Case Western Reserve University showed that the game provides good mental exercise and improves thinking skills, even for players who have Alzheimer’s disease. So next time you call out B-I-N-G-O, remember that the real prize is a boost to brain health!