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Just as we accumulate money in an RRSP to ensure our financial health, our brains make reserves for healthy aging. Several factors influence this phenomenon, but one of the best ways to enhance it is by challenging our brainpower.
This article is presented by Luci, an innovative application designed to promote brain health through a healthy lifestyle.
Cognitive reserve: Your ally for a healthy brain
Picture that a type of road map unfolds inside our head. On this map, nerve cells in the brain, called neurons, correspond to cities, and the many connections that link them represent intersecting roads.
The more numerous and well-maintained these cities and roads are, the more the brain can carry information from one region to another. When information hits a pothole or is stuck in a traffic jam, it can avoid it or take another path to get to its destination. This is what we call cognitive reserve.
A well-developed cognitive reserve helps maintain the proper functioning of mental faculties like attention and memory, since it ensures the preservation of neurons and the connections that link them. By having several quality connections, the brain will be better able to adapt to changes related to aging or to certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Building cognitive reserve
Our cognitive reserve develops throughout our life according to the activities we engage in and our life experiences.
We can strengthen or maintain our cognitive reserve on a daily basis by taking part in leisure activities that challenge our thinking. Combined with other good lifestyle habits (healthy eating, physical activity, etc.), these mentally stimulating interests are winning strategies for creating and strengthening the connections that link our neurons. Going back to the example of the road map, they solidify the existing roads and lead us to clear unexplored territories that are just waiting to be discovered.
Our brains are constantly learning and evolving. There is no age limit to invest in our cognitive reserve!
Activities to improve cognitive reserve
Many cognitively stimulating leisure activities activate our brain and help optimize our cognitive reserve. This is proof that combining business with pleasure is good for your health!
Regularly engaging in educational, creative, social and cultural activities as well as certain games greatly promotes good brain health.
Learning through educational activities allows you to acquire new skills and boost your brain. Here are some examples of intellectually stimulating activities:
- Immerse yourself in a good book
- Learn a new language
- Take a class or training course
- Discover a new country by attending a travel conference
- Watch a documentary on a new subject
Did you know that contemplating works of art and participating in creative activities can greatly impact your brain health?
Creative hobbies activate faculties such as memory, attention and fine motor skills, to name a few. There’s a plethora of creative pastime ideas:
- Take up painting, drawing or sculpture
- Start a craft or DIY project (pottery, knitting, cabinet making)
- Do photography
- Learn to play a musical instrument or practice singing
- Engage in social and cultural activities
Whether in person or online, participating in social and cultural activities is excellent for our emotional health. Here are some activities to restore energy and strengthen social connections:
- Join recreational group activities (birdwatching club, dance lessons)
- Volunteer (community kitchens, assisting seniors)
- Teach, tutor or help with homework
- Visit a museum or an art gallery
- Attend a theatre performance or a concert
Even in adulthood, play is beneficial and important. In addition to keeping us entertained and allowing us to socialize, certain games can promote learning and stimulate thinking, alertness, memory and problem solving. Here are some exciting games to awaken your inner child:
- Play board games tested by scientists, such as Monopoly or Scrabble
- Learn about strategy video games like Super Mario with younger and older children that you know
- Organize a virtual family chess tournament
- Train your mind by testing brain game apps like Peak or Lumosity.
- Play Sudoku or do crossword puzzles
Our hobbies and life habits can impact our cognitive reserve. And the greater the reserve, the more resilient the brain becomes as we get older. This means that having fun and taking care of yourself is the best investment you can make for healthy aging.
Find out more
This video animation created by Sabina Brennan, neuroscientist and psychologist, explains concepts of cognitive reserve in less than three minutes.
“What is cognitive reserve?”: A short article by Harvard Health Publishing.