Keeping your Brain Healthy During the Pandemic
Keeping busy with regular activities and spending time with others are both key to brain health. These have been lacking in our lives during the pandemic. Staying close to home and avoiding crowded places can help older adults reduce their risk of being exposed to COVID-19 but physical/social distancing may come with a cost for older adults. We know the brain naturally seeks out stimulation and connection. Fortunately, there are a lot of activities that keep your brain healthy that can be performed during the pandemic. This month’s Healthy Living Series gives you information to keep your brain active and sharp during COVID-19.
What is Brain Fitness?
• The term “brain fitness” reflects an idea that cognitive abilities can be maintained or improved by exercising the brain, similar to the way physical fitness is improved by exercising the body.
• Brain fitness is the capacity of a person to meet the various cognitive demands of life
• Brain fitness can be developed by formal education, being mentally engaged in life, continuing to learn, and exercises designed to challenge cognitive skills
• Healthy lifestyle habits including mental stimulation, physical exercise, good nutrition, stress
• management, and sleep can improve brain fitness
• Chronic stress, anxiety, depression, aging, air pollution, decreasing estrogen, excess oxytocin, and prolonged cortisol can decrease brain fitness as well as general health
• Research has shown that by having a healthy lifestyle and engaging in activities that stimulate the brain, adults can diminish the effect of aging on the brain
How does my brain change as I get older?
• The brain has the same number of neuron connections at age 75, than it did at age 25
• At age 75, it takes longer for the brain to make connections
• The more active a particular brain cell is, the more connections it develops with its neighboring neurons (a single neuron can have up to thirty thousand such connections)
• Each neuron be stimulated directly through experience (real or imagined) or indirectly through
• these connections from its neighbors, which saves the cell from death
• Physical exercise increases the rate at which new brain cells survive and make functional
• connections into existing neural networks
How can I protect my brain during the pandemic?
Keep the brain fit by doing the following:
• Eat Right
• Buy products low in total fat and saturated fat
• Choose foods high in omega-3 fatty acids such as fish and olive oil
• Increase the amounts of grains, fruits and vegetables in your diet
• Control Stress
• Practice relaxation strategies like visualizing a calm and peaceful setting
• Meditation, praying, yoga and tai chi all help to reduce stress
• Be careful not to confuse stress with anxiety
• If you suffer from anxiety, speak with your doctor a management plan
• Make sleep a priority
• Use caffeine judiciously. It can help keep you awake when tired, but those effects remain for hours and can interfere with your ability to fall sleep. Therefore, try not to consume caffeine within ~6 hours of your desired bedtime.
• Keep a regular sleep and wake-time schedule as much as possible. This helps keep your sleep and circadian systems in sync.
• Create a regular bedtime routine of quiet activities, like taking a warm shower, reading,
brushing your teeth and ending with relaxation exercises, to get your mind and body ready for sleep.
• Limit alerting activities close to bedtime, especially light (e.g., screens), caffeine, and exercise.
• Optimize your sleep environment. Keep it DARK, cool, quiet & comfortable. Use eye masks or dark-out curtains, and turn your screens off to foster a comfortable environment.
• Stay active
• Home exercises can to help you stay flexible and strong. Please consult a health care provider before beginning an exercise program. Please exercise at your own pace and take rest breaks when needed.
• Get your heart pumping by engaging in aerobic exercise for 20-30 minutes at least 3x week
• The more fun you have while exercising, the more likely you will be to stick with it
• Strength - Use household weights (“dumbbells”) to complete repetitive sets of lifting.
Don’t have weights? Use anything that is weighted and fits in your hand, like soup
cans, lotion/shampoo bottles, etc.
• Resistance - Resistance bands are like giant rubber bands designed to give your
muscles a good workout when stretched and pulled. Resistance bands can be
attached to furniture, a doorknob, or even your chair. Use these for pull-downs,
shoulder rotations, and arm and leg-extensions. If you don’t have resistance bands
you can wear heavy shoes, complete exercises while holding books/water bottles,
squeeze against a pillow, etc..
• Flexibility - By practicing mindful breathing and slowly stretching, you can improve
your range of motion while seated. Some of these exercises can also be done lying
• Activity Tolerance - Repetitive movements (like rapid leg lifts or sitting pushups) work
just as well to raise your heart rate.
• Other ways to keep active:
• Do a set of wall pushups while waiting for water to boil
• Vigorously vacuum
• Lift weights while watching the news
• Try toe-raises while talking on the phone
• Do knee bends after sitting for a long period of time
• Wet and wring out a wash cloth in the sink
• Complete daily brain exercises
• Daily brain exercise can improve the speed in which the brain processes information
• Older adults can learn new skills
• The brain continues to adapt to changes as we age
What are some Brain Fitness exercises?
• Have a conversation about an interesting topic
• Research has shown that conversing with another person daily is a key to keeping the mind sharp
• Complete a Puzzle
• Doing a puzzle strengthens the brain’s problem-solving skills, whether it is a crossword puzzle, a word search or a jigsaw puzzle
• Do the same jigsaw puzzle each day for a week, keeping track of how long it takes to complete the puzzle
• Practice Planning Ahead
• Activities that involve planning ahead, like chess, stimulate the frontal lobe area of the brain
• Memory Skill Practice
• You can improve your short-term memory skills by putting them to use each day.
• Watch the news daily and write down the headline stories or the weather forecast. Try to remember the stories or forecast later in the day and the next day.
• Review the daily activity schedule and see how many activities you can remember without looking again. Visualize the activities as a way to help you remember.
• Use Your Non-Dominant Hand
• The brain doesn’t need to focus when you complete everyday activities, such as eating or brushing your teeth, with your dominant hand.
• By using your non-dominant hand, you engage the other side of your brain to focus on the task at hand.
• Try using your other hand to complete the following tasks:
• Brushing your teeth
• Writing a note to yourself
• Learn a New Skill
• The brain retains the ability to learn new skills as you age.
• Learning a new skill, such as new craft or card game, keeps the brain strong.
• Use Your Senses
• Use all your senses during the day to engage your brain
• Examples of activities for the senses include:
• Close your eyes and identify all the sounds you hear
• Identify objects in a box by feel rather than by sight
• Close your eyes and identify the food on your plate by smell or taste
• Change Your Daily Routine
• Over time, your brain adjusts to the activities that you do daily
• Re-engage your brain by changing the order in which you do your activities, or change the activities themselves
• Your brain will need to focus and adjust to the changes
How can I connect with others to keep my brain sharp during COVID-19?
During this unprecedented time, there are countless technologies that can help you connect with family, friends, and people with common interests.
• Phone and video calls- Calling your loved ones can help reduce feelings of being alone. Take time to share stories, tell jokes, solve riddles, play simple games, or read aloud with them. If possible, take advantage of video call apps like FaceTime, Zoom, or Google Hangout and spend time with multiple family members on the same call.
• Celebrate good news, a birthday, or some type of achievement- Video call your friends and tell them it’s a celebration party. You can party together virtually through social media platforms.
• Don’t want to cook alone, eat alone, or watch the TV alone? Connect virtually with your family and friends. Watch the same shows while staying online at the same time, feeling their presence through your laptop or your phone.
• Email may feel familiar to those who enjoy writing letters or cards. Email has the advantage of instant delivery and no stamps are needed.
• Social media can help you share your thoughts. Options like Facebook and Twitter help people share thoughts, pictures, and news with just a few clicks
How Can Therapy Help?
• Seeking professional advice to analyze your unique situation; can often result in simple solutions
• Your rehab team is specially trained to help adults with a broad range of conditions that affect
• Your rehab team can identify lifestyle changes that can facilitate cognitive wellness
• Your rehab team can provide practical and helpful information and resources in order to assist in
health promotion such as brain fitness in your community
For additional information, please contact your Stonehill Communities Physical, Occupational and Speech therapists. Consult your rehab team today if you are concerned about your brain health and function.
Article contributed by Select Rehabilitation