How many times have you skipped over a crossword puzzle in the newspaper—barely even giving that page a glance? If you knew that completing a crossword puzzle on a regular basis could lower your risk of developing dementia would you have given that page a second look?

National Train Your Brain Day, observed every October 13, teaches us just how important it is to maintain our cognitive abilities. While it is easy for many of us to fall into unchanging routines, challenging one’s brain can be helpful in a large variety of ways.

According to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people aged 75 who participate in leisurely activities such as reading, playing board games, completing a crossword puzzle, or playing an instrument had a lower risk of developing dementia. If you are not an elderly individual, you should still be aware of the fact that the sooner you start participating in these activities the greater the likelihood that they will help prevent cognitive decline in the future.

Dr. Joe Verghese, the lead author from the NIH study, stated that “cognitive activity may stave off dementia by increasing a person’s ‘cognitive reserve’…(and) mentally active people can perhaps afford to lose more brain cells before the symptoms appear.”

‘Exercising’ your brain requires mental and physical activity

Aside from the benefits gained through mental activities such as reading or playing board games, physical exercise is another instrumental tool to strengthen one’s cognitive capacity.

The American Academy of Neurology published a press release this past March which indicated that individuals who exercise regularly have less brain shrinkage over time and have a larger brain volume when compared to inactive individuals of the same age.

Similarly, a study published in Neurology indicated that those who exercise regularly have a 40% reduced risk of developing vascular-related dementia. Exercise has also been shown to increase the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is involved in regulating mood and memory. 

Ten easy ways you can engage your brain

  1. Read on a regular basis
  2. Play chess or checkers with a friend
  3. Go for a long walk or run
  4. Explore a new part of your city and pay attention to what is different
  5. Decrease passive activities (such as watching TV) and spend more time being active outdoors
  6. Learn new vocabulary words
  7. Study a new language
  8. Learn how to play an instrument (or practice one if you already know how to play)
  9. Play new card games
  10. Engage in swimming or biking

While it is easy for many of us to believe that our health is entirely out of our control, we must remind ourselves that there are some areas of our health that we can positively or negatively impact. The brain is one of those areas that we can influence—and we must learn to “use it before we lose it.”

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The Future of Connection for Women

Ross Mellman
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