• Challenging brain activities lower the risk of dementia

    Many medical researchers are joining the belief that activities that challenge the mind, like learning an instrument, playing cards, knitting, or woodworking, prolong healthy brain function.

    “We used to think that you were born with all the nerve cells you were ever going to have, and all you could do over your lifetime was lose them.” states Guy McKhann, MD, who is director of the Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute at Johns Hopkins University. “Well that is wrong.  You do make new nerve cells.” Challenging your brain by activating underused neural pathways creates new connections in the brain which forces the brain to produce more growth molecules.

    Because of these new connections, a person’s mental abilities, which include memory, remain sharper for a longer period of time.  “In some cases, even mild forms of what we call a brain exercise have been shown to give you about six or seven additional years of cognitive ability,” states Lawrence Katz, Ph.D., who is a professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center. This connection between brain challenging activities and lowering risk of dementia is widely reported.

    Here are a few ideas to give your brain a mental challenge:

    1. Create new ways to think.  An activity that forces your brain to think in new ways, which requires you to solve problems, use your imagination, or make new associations, stimulates the brain.

    2. Change your daily routine. “There are ways of living your everyday life that are more brain healthy than others,” says Lawrence. “Part of that is making small changes in your routine so you’re not doing the same thing over and over.” He says that changing your routine in new ways increases your brain’s agility.

    3. Turn the TV off. “Watching TV is relaxation, not brain exercise,” states Lawrence. “The passive state of being fed information through your visual system is literally mind-numbing.”

    4. Shock your senses.  Activities that involve your senses in new and different ways are brain exercises.   As an example, when you cook or garden, you are engaging four of the five senses at once. “It’s very difficult to make generalizations because for different people, different things are going to work,” states Lawrence.  What is most important is that you’re doing something to challenge your brain.

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