8 tips to boost brain health and resilience during the pandemic

Excerpt: The latest research shows with aging the brain thrives and continues to make new connections through diverse social, cognitive and physical activities. Amid pandemic restrictions, doing what nourishes your brain can add spice to your life and build cognitive resilience. Stimulate your brain in different ways by doing aerobic exercise, connecting socially, eating mind-friendly foods, meditating and engaging in creative pursuits and hobbies.

Brain Awareness Week* is held from March 15 to March 21 this year. The latest research shows how with aging the brain thrives and can continue to grow and make new connections through engaging social, cognitive, and physical activities,* according to Dalhousie University.

Amid pandemic restrictions your brain needs as much care and attention as other parts of your body to stay fit. Doing what nourishes your brain can add spice to your life and make each day more enjoyable.

Here are 8 tips on how to stimulate your brain in diverse ways and build cognitive resilience:

  1. Keep moving to boost brain blood flow
    Brisk walking and other forms of aerobic exercise improve verbal fluency, thinking and memory in older adults,* even if they start exercising later in life, reported a 2020 University of Calgary study in Neurology.

  2. Connect socially to nurture brain connections
    Older adults who socialize by visiting friends, volunteering and attending classes have healthier brains,* according to a 2020 Journal of Gerontology study. Brain scans showed they had healthier grey matter in the specific brain regions used for social engagement involved in recognizing familiar faces and emotions, making decisions and feeling rewarded.* Keep social relationships active and alive in the pandemic by reaching out to family and friends online, through video calls and phone conversations.

  3. Use your right brain in creative pursuits
    Older adults who engaged in artistic hobbies such as painting, drawing and sculpture, or crafts like pottery, woodworking, and quilting, reduced their dementia risk substantially,* reported a Neurology study.

  4. Stay sharp with mind-friendly foods
    Older adults who ate foods included in two heart-healthy diets – the Mediterranean and the MIND diet – had sharper memories and better attention skills than those who ate less healthy diets,* according to a Journal of the American Geriatrics Society study. These diets are rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, potatoes, nuts, olive oil, fish and seafood.

  5. Take your brain dancing
    Older adults who took English country-style dancing lessons showed an increase in the brain’s white matter that connects nerve cells and helps people process information quickly,* reported a Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience study. Dancing offers the multiple brain-boosting benefits of cognitive, physical and social stimulation.*

  6. Keep your senses and mind sharp
    Protecting and enhancing your vision and hearing supports better brain health. Seniors who had cataract surgery and started wearing hearing aids improved their memory and thinking skills,* according to two University of Manchester studies.

  7. Meditate to elevate mind and mood
    Practicing mindfulness meditation and yoga had positive effects on the brain’s hippocampus – which plays a role in memory and learning – in people diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment,* reported a Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease study. Meditation can also help heal the brain by easing stress and lifting your mood,* advises Harvard Medical School.

  8. Nourish your brain with restorative sleep
    Restorative sleep promotes good brain health by improving memory consolidation and enhancing attention, problem solving and creativity.*

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

1. Dana Foundation. “Brain Awareness Week.” (2021), online: https://www.brainawareness.org/about/
2. Fountain of Health. “Brain Challenge. It’s always a good time to learn something new!” (2021), online: https://fountainofhealth.ca/wellbeing/brain-challenge
3. University of Calgary. “Study: Aerobic exercise improves memory in older adults.” (2020), online: https://www.newsmax.com/Health/health-news/exercise-memory-seniors/2020/05/18/id/967820/
4. Psychology Today. “How social connections improve your brain health.” (2020), online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-right-mindset/202010/how-social-connections-improve-your-brain-health
5. CBS News. “Which hobbies help an aging brain?” (2015), online: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/which-hobbies-help-an-aging-brain/
6. Science Daily. “Mediterranean-style diets linked to better brain function in older adults.” (2017), online: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170725154208.htm
7. AARP. “Take your brain dancing.” (2017), online: https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2017/dance-lessons-help-brain-health-fd.html
8. Medical Express. “Hearing and visual aids linked to slower age-related memory loss.” (2018), online: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-10-visual-aids-linked-slower-age-related.html
9. Medical News Today. “Mild cognitive impairment: Meditation can boost brain health.” (2019), online: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326139
10. Harvard Medical School. “What meditation can do for your mind, mood, and health.” (2014), online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/what-meditation-can-do-for-your-mind-mood-and-health-
11. Harvard Medical School. Aging and sleep: Making changes for brain health.” (2019), online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/aging-and-sleep-making-changes-for-brain-health-2019031116147#:~:text=Aging%20and%20sleep:%20Making%20changes%20for%20brain%20health,that%20poor%20sleep%20can%20have%20on%20brain%20health.