The external factors attributed to better cognitive health include healthy diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, mindfulness, social networking and reduced stress
In today’s competitive world, a lot of importance is being given to cognitive health. Cognitive health is associated with one’s ability to think, learn, attend, focus, remember, create, along with problem-solving and strategic planning. Cognitive abilities are, therefore, a vital component of performing everyday activities. Our brain regulates multiple functions, such as information processing, emotions, cognitive abilities like memory, intelligence, focus and attention, mental flexibility, and creativity. To enhance the functioning and connectivity of the brain, it is recommended to make use of relevant activities and exercises to prevent stress-related or age-related cognitive decline. Multiple evidence from scientific research suggests that good cognitive functioning is associated with lifestyle changes or external factors as well as challenging and stimulating the brain using cognitive exercises and activities. Little changes to your routine could help improve cognitive abilities. The external factors attributed to better cognitive health include healthy diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, mindfulness, social networking and reduced stress. Besides, there are also cost-effective activities and easy-to-do exercises available for cognitive strengthening with some initiative and effort by an individual.
1) Learning language or improving personal vocabulary: Helps in memory-building, improving the ability to comprehend, reasoning, sustained attention and focus
2) Learning new skills like musical instruments, culinary skills, photography, music, or art: Improves concentration, focus, attention, memory and creativity
3) Playing boardgames like chess, carrom, card games: Improves perceptual abilities, mental flexibility, working memory, planning and reasoning. Boardgames like Trivial Pursuit build factual memory and Monopoly improves mathematical, financial, and strategic planning skills.
4) Puzzles and crosswords: Crosswords, sudoku, and jigsaw puzzles challenge the brain’s ability of perceiving patterns, completing sequences, and solving problems. It also helps improve abilities like reasoning, planning, organisation and memory.
5) Playing video games: It helps to enhance attention, cognitive flexibility and problem-solving. Adventurous 3D video games significantly improve attention, short-term memory, and reaction time/response time as well as processing speed.
6) Dancing: It aids planning and organisation as it is a form of exercise that stimulates the brain region involved in rhythm and balance.
7) Practising Tai Chi: It involves gentle body movements, rhythmic breathing, and meditation and helps in improving memory, increasing brain connectivity among various regions involved in cognitive functioning.
8) Visualisation: Creating a mental image to represent information in different forms (pictures or animated scenes) helps in organising information and improves decision-making.
9) Travelling and exploring new places: Travelling to near or far destinations can help us explore new scenes, sights, sounds, making new neural connections and improving memory circuitry.
10) Cultural adaptation: Participating in or watching films, plays, poetry readings, museum tours, etc. presents brain with challenging and stimulating ideas, thereby strengthening new neural connections by rewiring.
It is advisable to assess your cognitive strengths and weaknesses from time to time and prepare a simple roadmap, a sort of mindful ledger where you would want your cognitive abilities to reach. By choosing the ones needed to be improved the most, you can enhance your cognitive health by employing strategies discussed above.
Dr. Shrivastava is a neuroscientist and neuropsychologist