Research continues to prove that brain-stimulating activities and habits can help stave off Alzheimer’s. A new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society by James E. Galvin, MD, MPH, examines potential Alzheimer’s prevention strategies. Researchers evaluated 19 studies on various brain-stimulating activities that may lower risks for the disease 1.
The study concluded that engaging in mentally stimulating activities such as reading, writing and playing games can improve brain health by resulting in fewer deposits of beta-amyloid – a destructive protein that has become the hallmark of early Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The experts also say that many of these activities trigger our senses, helping us stay engaged and pay attention, and as a result, make our brains more alert to our surroundings.
Stimulate Your Mind & Your Senses
Here are ten activities from Galvin’s research that you can incorporate into daily life to help improve long-term brain health and make a difference in building the foundations of mindful Alzheimer’s care and prevention.
- Brain games that require thinking. Crossword puzzles and Sudoku are brain exercises that not only improve cognitive ability, but also help prevent Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, according to the Archives of Neurology 2. Cards games, whether it’s duplicate bridge, a game of poker, or a cut-throat game of hearts with the grandchildren, can also stimulate the mind and involve interaction with others which sharpens cognitive awareness.
- Reading. According to researchers, reading is more neurobiologically demanding than processing images or speech. Reading requires that vision, language, and associative learning all connect, which is far more challenging that watching a movie 4. Consider joining a book club. This not only encourages reading, but dialogue with others – these are two activities that enhance brain health.
- Arts & crafts. You don’t need to be Martha Stewart to make a holiday wreath or put together a scrapbook. Put paint on a canvas, sketch the birds in your garden, knit a sweater or do some woodworking (make those birds a feeder!) Working with your hands and crafting something new will help keep the senses finely tuned.
- Learn a new skill; take a class. If your mind is challenged to learn, it stays active and healthy. Learn a new language; learn to throw a pot at a ceramics studio; maybe you’ve always wanted to play guitar? Take lessons. Sign-up for a cooking school class. Most local communities offer affordable classes through their park and recreation programs.
- Writing. Handwritten cards and letters is a dying art, but one that can help keep your brain alive and well (and who doesn’t appreciate a handwritten note?). Keep a journal or write a memoir. Putting pen to paper promotes hand, eye and cognitive coordination, but you can also compose a letter on a computer.
- Music. Listening to music engages the mind and the senses; it can be soothing as well as stimulating. Play your favorite instrument and practice the piano. Sing along at the piano bar. Musicians keep their hand-eye coordination finely honed and their brains tracking.
- Exercise. Healthy body, healthy mind. We’ve heard that mantra for years. Researchers have learned that physical activity can in fact help reduce Alzheimer’s risk by up to 65 percent 3. Exercise reduces the risk of blood vessel disease, improves breathing, and supports the survival of cells that make up the body and brain. Exercise reduces chronic inflammation and increases the release of a protein that benefits brain cells while improving cardiovascular and metabolic health, which are also risk factors for Alzheimer's disease 3.
- Tackle new technologies. At the rate computer software and hardware are changing, there is always something new to learn. This doesn’t have to be daunting! Even playing simple games on a computer can help with Alzheimer’s care as does checking email daily and texting from a cell phone. Laptops, iPads, and other mobile devices can go anywhere with you. Favorite sites can be bookmarked for easy access. There a vast selection of apps to choose from – whether you want to play scrabble, read the news, track the weather online, or read a new best seller.
- Stay social; get out and about. Remain interested, active and engaged in life and your brain will remain active as well. Visit museums, go to the theater; make regular trips to the library; talk to neighbors and friends; don’t become a recluse. Volunteer!
- Learn something new every day. Try a new recipe, learn a new word, take a new route to work or on your daily walk. Getting out of your regular routine; trying something new can challenge your mind and stimulate brain stem growth.
It’s never too soon to start. Researchers note that a lifetime of engaging in these cognitively stimulating activities can enhance brain health and help defer the risk of Alzheimer’s. If you remain curious about life and continue to learn new things, your brain will remain active and challenged. As the old adage goes - if you don’t use it, you lose it.
- Jensen CS, Hasselbalch SG, Waldemar G et al. (2015) Biochemical Markers of Physical Exercise on Mild Cognitive Impairment and Dementia: Systematic Review and Perspectives. Front Neurol 6, 187
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