Live Better
 
 

Use it or lose it

Activities to keep your brain fit.

Our brain needs to keep active to remain sharp.

Common sense tells us that we need to keep our minds active. Even Cicero wrote about this in his treatise on ageing in 44BC when he said “Old men retain their intellects well enough, if only they keep their minds active and fully employed”.

Science has now proven the benefits of mental activity.  Older adults who complete memory training programs have an increase in gray matter in relevant brain regions. Adults who were trained in skills of speed of processing showed less cognitive decline over 10 years. London taxi drivers have larger hippocampi – which is the part of the brain associated with memory, and a growth in the size of the hippocampus was seen in aspiring taxi drivers who trained on ‘The Knowledge’.


Computerised brain training packages can improve cognitive abilities on the skills trained and have long term benefits. We still don’t know the extent to which this transfers to everyday activities or prevents dementia. One limitation of research in this area is that newer interventions such as brain training games have not yet been compared with the more traditional forms of mental activities such as reading books, attending concerts and plays, learning photography, writing emails and letters, and enrolling in continuing education courses or learning new dancing routines. While the research shows that just about any new, stimulating activity has cognitive benefits, we don’t yet have the knowledge to prescribe dosage and type of mental activity in the way one might prescribe physical exercises. Here are some areas where the science is strong:

We need to keep our kids in education: Education is critical for developing brain capacity that will endure throughout adulthood and provide a buffer against the effects of ageing and disease. Keeping all children in school until the age of 15 would reduce dementia rates internationally. Ideally children will stay at school as long as possible.

We all need to keep learning new things as adults. Continuing education in adulthood is good for the brain and may reduce risk of later cognitive decline. Any form of new learning, including learning in the workplace, seems to be beneficial and often specific activities lead to measureable changes in the brain.

A cognitively active lifestyle reduces the risk of dementia. At least two long term studies have shown this. In those studies ‘cognitive activity’ included going to concerts, plays, museums, reading, writing letters, playing games and so forth.

Too much TV is not good for you. Spending long periods of time watching television has been linked to increased risk of dementia, along with increased waistlines and shorter lifespan.

It is likely that serious engagement in new and challenging learning, such as learning a language or undertaking higher education, is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of ‘losing it’. Cognitive health or brain health is part of overall health and exercise is again one of the best means of maintaining it.

For more information visit Medibank Health Hub or fightdementia.org.au

Recommended Reading

When diabetes leads to emotional distress

A recent report reveals the emotional impact of diabetes.

Read more

9 tips to make training your dog easy

Veterinarian Dr Amanda Chin shares her secrets.

Read more

Mental health services in Australia

Where to get support when your studying in Australia

Read more

Does your pet have separation anxiety?

Here are the warning signs – and how you can help.

Read more

Quit smoking the smart way

Give yourself the best chance of success

Read more

Pancreatic cancer: What you need to know

Professor David Thomas explains the facts you need to know.

Read more

Natural secrets for clear, healthy skin

Nutritionist Samantha Sargent shares some tips.

Read more

Anxiety explained

Learn more about anxiety

Read more