Ways to Keep Your Brain Healthy During the Pandemic Is your brain feeling … foggy? Stay connected as much as possible

Written by Contributor. Posted in Health & Wellness

Published on February 03, 2021 with No Comments

You’re not just imagining it. “Keeping busy with regular activities and spending time with others are both key to brain health and lowering your risk of dementia — and they’re also things most of us are lacking right now,” says psychiatrist Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center. The good news is there is plenty you can do during this pandemic to keep your brain neurons firing. Here are things to try.

Social isolation is a major risk factor for dementia, says Small. If you normally enjoy activities such as a book club or game night, try to arrange them virtually. “My wife and I play the card game hearts online with our friends a couple times a week,” Small says. Or use the Zoom conferencing platform to create a virtual party where you can hang out with close family and friends. One landmark University of Michigan study found that just 10 minutes of talking to another person can help boost memory and cognitive performance.

You can also try connecting a little more deeply on social media; if you normally just click “Like” on friends’ Facebook posts, for example, Fotuhi suggests actually commenting on them. “When you write something, chances are they will reply, and it’s a way to have a virtual conversation with them,” he says.

If possible, volunteer 

Whether it’s making cloth masks for a homeless shelter, or making weekly phone calls for your house of worship to check in on the homebound. Seniors who do so have lower rates of dementia, according to a 2017 study. “It kills two birds with one stone, because it forces you to engage with others while doing something at the same time that works your brain,” Zaldy Tan, medical director of the UCLA Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program says.

Stay active

You don’t need much exercise to see benefits. Walking or cycling just three times a week appears to improve thinking skills after six months in formerly sedentary people over age 55, according to a recent study published in the medical journal Neurology. A heart-healthy diet adds even more benefits: People who followed the DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diet, an eating plan rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy, fared even better.

Exercise won’t just keep your heart healthy and your weight down as you face lots of time inside — it helps your brain stay in shape, too. “We know that regular aerobic exercise boosts blood flow to your brain, and also increases the size of your hippocampus, the part of your brain that’s involved in verbal memory and learning,” explains geriatrician Zaldy Tan. His own study, among others, helped uncover the link: “When we performed MRI scans of over 2,000 people over age 60, we found that the more active they were, the bigger their hippocampus,” he says. “Even better, the protective effects were highest in those over age 75, which suggests that it’s never too late to start.”

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