Weekend’s Better Brain Health Breakfast #7: Friends, Lovers, Puzzles, and Music

A small drum circle at Eeyore's Birthday Party...

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The power of love and friends for your health

Staying married or good social connections can help you live longer are covered in this Washington post article. I have blogged on how social interactions can improve your health in a previous post. One interesting piece of data from the Washington post article is that social connectedness had as much health benefits as stopping smoking, and was more than what you would receive from exercise.

Cryptic puzzles for better metacognition

A few weeks ago we talked about the power of puzzles to widen our minds and how problems can bring out our playfulness. Now over at Sharpbrains there is an interesting post about how cryptic crossword puzzles might be better for us than the normal general knowledge crossword puzzles by enhancing our metacognition ability.

Compared to general knowl­edge cross­words, cryptic cross­words can be solved many different ways, therefore attempting cryptic cross­words is similar to attempting new challenging cognitive activities each time.

Puzzles, in whatever form, would be consider one type of brain training which is a growing field. One of brain training’s goals is to help reduce our cognitive decline as we age.

Brain training or social activities ?

Another very interesting post over at BrainBlogger offers some interesting perspective on brain training. The post covers a big review paper that examined 24 trials on various brain training interventions. They found that there is not strong evidence for the use of cognitive training programs for the elderly compared to other activities for people 60 and over.

Now I am guessing that Alvaro from Sharpbrains might argue with this conclusion or mention that there hasn’t been enough research on this topic to make any definitive statement (hoping I am not putting too many words in his mouth by saying this).

However, what is interesting about the results reported by BrainBlogger is that ‘natural activities’ that engage the brain or social activities can work as well as official brain training programs.

The good news is that stimulating your brain for cognitive improvement really does make a difference, whether you use a professional (training) program or natural activities that stimulate the brain. A good deal of research has looked at the question of natural activities that improve or maintain cognitive abilities in older persons, and the results encourage us to be engaged in life, especially social activities. Research on involvement in religion suggests that it is primarily the social aspect that improves longevity. This is probalby true for cognition and memory as well.

Does music increase our socialness?

Over at ScienceNews there is very nice article on the diverse powers of music on our lives and brain. I wrote a piece on how musical training can increase your brain’s gray matter. Among the many other effects music has on the brain discussed in the ScienceNews piece it was something right at the end I found most interesting. Researchers think that one vital reason music has so much influence on making us feel happy is because it helps forge social bonds.

Studies show that listening to music stimulates brain areas specialized for imitation and empathy that contain what researchers call mirror neurons. These brain circuits, first described in monkeys, act like mirrors in the mind, reflecting others’ actions and intentions as if they were one’s own. The neurons allow you to feel loved ones’ pain or simulate their actions, even if only in your mind….

Because music has historically brought people together to sing, dance and celebrate rituals, it can make people feel like they are in a social interaction, he says. Until recently, whenever people heard music, they would also see feet tapping, hands drumming or instruments being strummed, plucked or hit.

Listening to music, dancing, and singing together would definitely qualify as one the ‘natural activities’ that actively engages the brain (that we discussed above) and is also very social.

Summary:

Play with cryptic puzzles to engage a larger set of your brain’s functions. For better long term health be in love and have strong social connections. Keep your brain active to fight off the decline of your brain functions, and again engage in social activities. And one way to help forge these social connections is listening to music together – go to listen to live music: play, sing, and dance.

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