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Are crosswords good for brain health?

AGING MATTERS

Have you ever wondered if crosswords will keep your brain fit as you age? Are there other activities that are even better? Christine Spencer, Maui’s regional coordinator with the Alzheimer’s Association Aloha Chapter, has that question asked of her often.

So how does Christine answer that question? It would be great if the answer was a simple “yes,” but there is much more to it than a simple “yes” or “no.” There are many activities have been shown to correlate with lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Key components for healthy cognitive activities include those that are varied, challenge the brain and take place regularly.

What is ‘mentally challenging’?

Think about what you have done so far today. Some activities are so familiar that they require little thought process to complete, such as brushing your teeth, dressing or eating. Other activities require focused attention, a learning process or problem-solving. It is this second group that is generally considered mentally or cognitively challenging.

What is ‘regular’?

Currently there are no recommendations for the amount of time individuals should spend daily or weekly on cognitively challenging activities. However, many researchers have found a relationship with the amount of time spent on challenging leisure activities in mid-life and lower rates of dementia in later life. This means that brain health is not something to put off until retirement. Rather, now is the right time to focus on brain-healthy activities.

Beginning this month, the Alzheimer’s Association Aloha Chapter is co-hosting a monthly virtual workshop series that features research-based strategies to boost brain health. Topics include more than just cognitive activities but also lifestyle practices that contribute to brain health for all ages.

To accommodate those in the workforce as well as retirees, the workshop is scheduled during lunch (noon to 1 p.m.) on the last Thursday of each month. The virtual format also means that friends and family on other islands can participate. Mark your calendars with the following dates and topics and then register with the Alzheimer’s Association to receive a link for each of the virtual workshops:

• Jan. 28: 10 Ways to Love Your Brain. This game-show style workshop will highlight the Alzheimer’s Association’s top 10 strategies for protecting the brain and building cognitive reserve. This workshop will create the foundation for the remaining six workshops.

• Feb. 25: Heart Your Brain. Lifestyle activities that contribute to heart health also correlate with brain health. Participants will leave this workshop equipped with information to make informed decisions that benefit both the heart and brain.

• March 25: Forest Bathing for the Brain. There are many strategies to manage unhealthy stress, which can negatively impact the brain. Participants will learn about and practice strategies to reduce stress through relaxation, exercise and spending time in nature.

• April 29: Elevate Your Exercise. Brains require oxygen to function properly, so exercise that increases the circulation of oxygen-rich blood is critical to brain health. Participants will learn and practice four types of exercise that are linked with brain health.

• May 27: Stump Yourself. The brain needs a variety of activities that are novel and thought-provoking. Participants will learn and practice strategies to turn regular activities into those that are fun and challenging.

• June 24: Hit the Books. Formal education is related to a reduced risk of dementia. While most adults will not return to a traditional classroom, participants in this workshop will learn strategies that turn lifelong learning opportunities into something that resembles formal education.

• July 29: Brain Food. Brains require good nutrition for optimal health, but there so are so many diets being marketed that its often difficult to know what is truth and what is myth. Participants will learn about the types of food that best fuel the brain.

Register for one, two or all the monthly workshops by emailing Christine Spencer at cespencer@alz.org or calling (808) 518-6650. Once registered, you will receive a link to the live virtual workshop. The day before each workshop, you will receive all electronic handouts. This workshop series is free and is co-hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association Aloha Chapter and UH Manoa’s Kahului Extension Office.

* Heather Greenwood Junkermeier is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Intergenerational and Aging Programs. Aging Matters covers topics of interest to the aging Maui community and appears on the third Saturday of each month.

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