Doing Crosswords and Sudokus to Keep Your Mind Sharp? There’s Another Activity that Is Even Better for Improving Brain Health

Scientists once believed that human beings were born with their lifetime’s supply of neurons. They also thought that this supply would inevitably decrease as you aged.

But according to Dr. Max Cynader, neuroscientist and founder of brain-health company Synaptitude, “Basically, that’s not true. It turns out that you’re actually making new neurons in important parts of your brain all of the time. For some of the parts of your brain, like the Hippocampus that is important for learning, memory and plasticity, you’re making new neurons every day. You might make ten thousand new neurons this week. And there are easy ways you can double or triple the number of new neurons you make next week.”

Want to Up Your Crossword and Sudoku game? Exercise Might Be the Answer

Most people have been taught that activities like doing Sudoku, playing along to Jeopardy! or reading stimulating books are good for your brain. As Dr. Cynader puts it, “These activities are good for you, no question. But it turns out that they don’t actually promote the birth of new neurons in your brain. You can provide cognitive stimulation, have people do crossword puzzles and sudoku and read great books. You can also provide social contact and stimulation. That doesn’t increase the supply of new neurons in your brain either. It turns out that the best way to make new neurons next week is to increase your physical activity.” This advice is based on recent scientific findings that really provides a new approach to enhancing brain plasticity and, therefore, to healthy brain aging. Probed about the type of physical activity and the methodology used to arrive at that conclusion, Dr. Cynader explains 

Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose, Canadian Research Chair in Exercise and Brain Health

One of the scientists who cofounded Synaptitude along with me a few years ago is Teresa Liu-Ambrose, a Canada Research Chair in Exercise and Brain Health. She recently conducted a study on various physical exercise programmes and their effects on cognition. She took a bunch of sixty-five-year-old women and put them in three different exercise groups to study the effects on the brain. Some groups worked on relaxing and stretching only, while others did different types of physical exercise focussing on either strength training(resistance), or cardio (aerobic) training  She looked to see how their cognition improved over the next six months. And what she found was that relaxing/stretching were ineffective at improving cognition. Both cardio and strength training improved cognition, but strength training was actually the best. Most people that I talk to find this quite surprising. Why should lifting weights improve cognition? Now researchers are trying to understand how this all works.  There is increasing evidence that there is a growth factor that is released from stressed muscles and this growth factor stimulates the brain to make new neurons!

Max goes on by highlighting that this is the reasoning behind why the team at Synaptitude have become passionate advocates for exercise, whether it’s strength training or cardio. Synaptitude helps anyone adopt better exercise habits by monitoring your baselines and providing advice on how to improve further. All of these things come together to really provide an evidence-based approach to healthy aging that is informed by science.

Try Synaptitude’s Lifestyle Assessment Today to get a free Brain Health Report. Find out how you compare to your peers across five brain health pillars; Exercise, Sleep, Nutrition, Stress and Cognition.

Strengthen Your Body, Strengthen Your Brain

Building on the discovery of a link between physical exercise and neuron generation, other healthy aging professionals like Kay Van Norman, founder of Brilliant Aging, are now stressing the importance of this type of activity to the people whom they work with. In Kay’s view, “The need for strength and power training not only for physical health but for brain health is important information to get out there. And I love hearing this new research because people are always asking me, ‘What’s the best exercise for me to do to stay healthy?’ And I always say, ‘Well, it’s the one you’ll actually do, number one. But secondly, strength and power training are so critical, so find a way. I want to help people understand that here’s the science. It’s not your age. It’s actually your inactivity.”

At Synaptitude, we always say knowledge is power because, as Kay points out, giving people actionable information “empowers them to act by saying to themselves, ‘Oh, now I have this really good piece of information that applies to me at whatever stage of change I’m in. I’m willing now to do something about it.’ So, I love the Synaptitude approach of having these very clear diagnostic tools to help you know where you’re at and then giving specific things that you can do backed by science.” 

Learn more about Synaptitude’s brain-health programme by trying our free lifestyle assessment. If you would like to learn more about Kay, check out Brilliant Aging’s website. And you can learn from other healthy aging experts that we have connected with at Synaptitude by following our blog series and signing up for our newsletter.