Have you heard that doing crossword puzzles is good for your brain and might even keep dementia at bay? Have you ever wondered why that’s true?
It used to be that we believed we were born with a certain number of brain cells and after about the age of two, all we did was lose them. If you hit your head, those brain cells were gone forever. But recent research is indicating that isn’t quite true, that we can generate new brain cells – a process called “neural plasticity.”
So, how does it work? Clinical neuropsychologist, Paul Nussbaum says it isn’t just one thing that promotes brain health, but a brain healthy lifestyle that can make a difference.
- Physical Activity – Every time our heart beats, 25% of the oxygen-rich blood goes right to our brain; therefore, anything that affects our heart, affects our brain. If you aren’t doing any exercise, start something today. Aerobic exercise results in structural changes in our brains. Dancing – especially the tango, clinically reduces our risk of developing dementia.
- Nutrition – Nutrition advice seems to change almost daily. But here is the scoop for your brain: increase your omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna), increase your intake of anti-oxidants (dried plums – formerly called prunes – are an excellent source) and reduce the overall number of calories you consume daily (never go to bed stuffed and eat just 80% of what you put on your plate at each meal).
- Socialization – Retire from your job but not from life! Build new friendships and cultivate family networks, remain involved, develop hobbies, volunteer, or continue to work. One study showed that people who see themselves as lonely had an increased risk of developing dementia.
- Spirituality – Evidence continues to mount that prayer is a health-promoting behavior. Praying or meditating daily can help us keep the stresses of life at bay. Research also indicates that those that attend formal worship services regularly are healthier. Prayer and/or meditation physically alters the brain and increases your immune system.
- Mental Stimulation – Here is the scoop – if it is novel (meaning new to you) and complex, then it is good for you and your brain. So if it is hard and you are afraid you can’t do it or you will fail – GO FOR IT!! These kinds of activities will force your brain to make new connections. There are many computer-based programs now available designed to enhance memory and increase mental capacity. Research is being done to test their effectiveness. So learn to say “hello” in ten languages, practice writing your name with the “other” hand, play board games and listen to classical. Oh, and do crossword puzzles!