LIFESTYLE MEDICINE: COGNITIVE ENHANCEMENT

Engage Your Brain. Live Longer.

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THE SIGNIFICANCE

Throughout our lives, our brains are changing; new neurons and neural pathways continue to develop as we age and accumulate new experiences and accrue more knowledge into our mental piggy-bank. Actions we take can affect the development of neurons and lead to cognitive enhancement. According to a report by the Global Council on Brain Health, continuing to actively develop our cognition through diverse and engaging activities can improve a range of brain functions.

THE EVIDENCE

The National Institute on Aging, a leader in healthy-aging research, states that diverse lifestyle changes focused on enhancing cognitive development, may improve memory, concentration, information processing, and motor function. 

In a recent report from the World Health Organization, an estimated 55 million people are currently living with dementia. In addition, the WHO also predicts that this number will rise to 78 million by 2030 and 139 million by 2050. While research is still underway to determine if focus on cognitive enhancement can prevent dementia later in life, performing stimulating and diverse activities with consistency during our lifetime has been shown to delay the onset of dementia by five years.  Cognitive enhancement may even reduce symptoms associated with other neurodegenerative brain disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease.

THE RECOMMENDATIONS

Implementing lifestyle changes can help to develop many aspects of our cognition. Performing consistent and diverse stimulation is a powerful tool in developing our brain function. As our brains continue to mature during our lifetime, these techniques may help to positively enhance our performance:

  • Aerobic activity can benefit our health in many ways, but consistent aerobic training can improve brain processing and play a key role in improving neurodegeneration. Performing moderate to vigorous physical activity has been shown to not only improve brain processing but also memory, executive functioning and subsequent academic performance.
  • Meditation and mindfulness practices can improve attention, memory, speech, cognitive flexibility, and potentially increase cognitive capacity.
  • Cognitive training programs can have a positive effect on our brain health, and may increase in benefit when paired with exercise

Cognitively stimulating leisure activities, such as word games, puzzles, gardening or writing calligraphy, can produce similar results to cognitive training programs and have a significant effect on the delay and reduction of cognitive decline.

THE TAKEAWAY

As much as the saying, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is a myth, so too is the idea that our own cognitive enhancement simply plateaus once we reach a certain age. If we keep our furry friends engaged, and introduce new stimuli continuously, their knowledge can flourish. By implementing lifestyle changes that expose ourselves to a variety of cognitively stimulating activities and ideas, our neural network will respond with new connections and increased function. Through collaboration, a healthcare professional can work with individuals to determine activities that complement areas of their cognitive function they may want to enhance.

SELECTED SUPPORTING RESEARCH

  • (Sep, 2020) Role of Lifestyle in Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis in an Aging Brain. Cureus.
  • (Sep, 2019) Face-to-Face and Digital Multidomain Lifestyle Interventions to Enhance Cognitive Reserve and Reduce Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias: A Review of Completed and Prospective Studies. Nutrients.
  • (May, 2018) Clinical Lifestyle Medicine Strategies for Preventing and Reversing Memory Loss in Alzheimer’s. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.
  • (Dec, 2017) Dementia prevention, intervention, and care. The Lancet
  • (Jun, 2017) Lifestyle Modulators of Neuroplasticity: How Physical Activity, Mental Engagement, and Diet Promote Cognitive Health during Aging. Neural Plasticity.
  • (Jun, 2010) Exercise and Cognitive Function: Can Working Out Train the Brain, Too? American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.
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