A recent study by Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research, Oslo, Norway, suggests that the intelligence quotient (IQ) of the general population has started declining. However, just because things have been set in motion does not mean that we cannot take the right measures to rectify them. There are many hobbies and lifestyle changes that help better our cognitive health. “For any activity to keep the mind healthy, it will have to provide the person with a sense of accomplishment, achievement, fulfilment and growth. This can happen only when a person feels good about what he does,” says Dr Hozefa Bhinderwala, psychiatrist, Global Hospitals, adding, “Activities that make an individual feel good vary from person to person. Even for the same individual, it may differ based on their mood from time to time. It is important for a person to identify the activities that contribute to his or her emotional well-being.”
Any work that a person enjoys and has a passion for, enriches his or her mind. Conversely, being involved in work that the person does not like will put the mind to distress and make the person less productive. “Each person must explore what works for them. While for some it may be a form of exercise or walk, for others it may be listening to music or reading a book. Solving puzzles and playing games also help release endorphins in the body that add to a sense of well-being,” says Bhinderwala.
Neeta V Shetty, psychotherapist, Blissful Mind Therapy Centre, suggests seven simple ways to help ensure optimum cognitive health in the long run.
Mindfulness: It is the art of being in the present moment with a non-judgemental approach. It involves meditation, as one of the major aspects, mindfulness-based meditation has proved to improve attention, focus, memory, learning, problem-solving skills and leadership qualities. It also helps boost your creativity as well as slow down age-related cognitive decline.
Learning: Gaining knowledge of something new improves memory, focus and decision-making skills. Studies show that people learning a second language in their adulthood can cut the risk of cognitive decline in old age. It is the ability to focus when you are learning something new, which helps in improving cognition.
Exercise: It improves mood, attention and academic achievements. It helps to improve cognitive function and concentration by increasing the blood flow to the brain, thereby increasing the oxygen levels in it. Getting the heart rate up enhances neurogenesis that is the ability to grow new brain cells in adults. Thus, exercising enhances brain functions over a lifetime not just after a workout or physical activity.
Hobbies: Activities such as writing, playing musical instruments, gardening, and hobbies like reading, baking, sketching, painting, dancing, and listening to music help reduce cortisol levels and protect neurons that are crucial for maintaining a healthy central nervous system. It helps exercise our brains, which slows down brain degeneration.
Socialising: Social interactions and interpersonal relationships promote happiness and cognitive skills. It is mentally stimulating to hold a conversation with others. Social motivation and social contact help improve memory formation and recall. It also helps in preventing neurodegenerative diseases.
Nature: Spending time in nature helps us to improve concentration and focus. It reduces our cortisol levels and enhances the present moment awareness, which is important for memory and focus.
Pets: A pet can improve oxytocin levels, reduce cortisol levels. Pet ownership in childhood has major benefits on cognitive development. Having a pet reduces anxiety, depression and social isolation in teens. During old age, it provides us with companionship and nurturing opportunity, which has proven to improve lifespan and reduce the risk of dementia.
The food-mind connect
Recent studies have shown that nutrition-diet is a key element in maintaining a positive mental well-being. For example, foods rich in carbohydrates elevate the mood through the release of tryptophan. Low levels of vitamin B-12 and vitamin D are associated with depression and iron deficiency is found to be associated with the attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). Dr Usha Talvadkar, psychiatrist, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, says, “Nutrients influence neurotransmission and genetic expression. Hence, maintaining a healthy diet and correction of the nutritional deficiency is important.”
Speaking about mood-boosting foods, KC Raghu, food anthropologist and founder, Pristine Organics, says, “Healthy mind needs phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables. Simple tea and coffee can cause alertness, agility and action.”
Nisha Bajaj, nutritionist, Digestive Health Institute by Dr Muffi, says that the following food items are especially beneficial for brain health:
Avocado: It improves blood supply to the brain, and can boost planning and critical thinking skills.
Walnut: It boosts brain power. Also, an ounce of almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, or Brazil nuts can help stabilise mood.
Broccoli: It contains vitamin K, which strengthens cognitive abilities, and choline, which improves memory.
Salmon: It is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial for brain performance. Omega-3 deficiency can lead to fatigue, poor memory, and mood swings.
Dark chocolate: Flavanol, a natural compound in cocoa beans, can increase memory and thinking abilities.