Our digital devices drive most of our everyday activities. If you work at a desk, then you could be staring at a computer screen all day. If you don’t, then chances are your eyes are looking at your smart phone. Whether texting, posting, playing, or searching, or just watching TV, you are likely staring at a screen for multiple hours during the day.

Sure, you're informed and up to date, but guess what? Your brain and your eyes are tired.

Studies now suggest that the artificial light (blue light LED) from digital screens can hurt your health, especially when you use devices at night. It disrupts sleep, strains your eyes, and can even alter your cognitive function.1

Give your eyes and brain a break. Put down the smart phone or tablet at bedtime – and as often as you can during the day – and you will likely get more sleep, and better sleep, and be on your way to feeling more alert and refreshed.

Want to wake up your brain even more? Brain aerobics – engaging activities that involve at least two senses and offer a break from everyday tasks – will help your mind and memory thrive as you grow older.

In fact, research suggests that mentally stimulating activities like reading, puzzles, and board games can cut your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.2,3

Tech-free ways to boost brainpower

Some offline activities can actually make your brain bigger, by helping it to grow new nerve cells and new connections between these cells. Here are seven ways to give yourself a mental edge – minus the screen.2,4

1. Do a crossword puzzle

Grab a pencil and newspaper and put your brain to work. Mind games such as crossword puzzles and sudoku stimulate your memory and thinking skills. Experts often suggest them as a way to ward off memory-robbing diseases like Alzheimer's.

And studies show that the more often you engage in these activities, the better your brain health will be. The recent PROTECT study asked 19,000 adults, ages 50 and older, who did not have dementia, about their puzzle-solving habits and measured their brain function.

The study found that adults who did crossword puzzles shaved up to a decade off their actual brain age when it came to cognitive function.

Specifically, frequent crossword puzzle solvers had grammar reasoning skills that were up to 10 years better than their peers, and their short-term memory was eight years better.5

2. Join a book club

Reading will stimulate both sides of your brain at the same time. Talking about what you've read and learned – at a book club – will help keep your mind and imagination active.2

3. Chat about current events

Not a book person? Then try reading a newspaper and discussing current events with a friend, like over coffee or lunch. Activities that involve language, numbers, and reasoning help keep your mind and memory sharp. Staying social also helps your brain thrive.2

4. Be mindful

Mindfulness and meditation boost brain size and can also improve your mental function. They also help kick stress to the curb. That's important, because studies have linked stress to an increased risk of dementia.2

5. Make some music

Always wanted to play the drums or strum a guitar? It's never too late to start. Music lessons keep your mind sharp by helping the brain form new connections between nerve cells. Reading music and playing an instrument requires sharp, focused attention. Research shows these activities enhance the brain's processing speed, memory, and executive function skills.6

6. Dance

It doesn't matter if you have two left feet. Learning specific dance steps trains your brain to recall and remember instructions. Many studies have shown that dancing – especially when combined with social interaction – helps keep the brain healthy and alert.

The complex steps and synchronized movements exercise your memory, motor, perception, and execution skills. Don’t have a dance partner? Line dancing is a fun option if you're going solo.7,8

7. Learn a language

Okay, you might need an electronic device for this one. But it requires only your ears, not your eyes. Try an audiobook or a podcast that trains you in a new language.

Speaking a second language keeps your thinking skills intact and might delay the onset of cognitive symptoms in individuals who develop mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease.9 And who knows, maybe there is someone where you live who teaches language classes the old-fashioned way – in person.

Bonus tips to sharpen your mind and memory

Going on a “digital detox” is a good way to keep your brain healthy. Here are some other ways to keep your mind and memory in tip-top shape.1

  • Say no to the smart phone – or tablet or TV – in the bedroom. Four out of 10 people use their smart phone in the bedroom. But the artificial light from the screens keeps you alert, not sleepy. The light shouts "Wake up!" to your brain – it suppresses the body's sleep hormone, melatonin, and disrupts your natural sleep-wake cycle.1
  • Eat your fruits and veggies. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids promotes optimal brain health and protects against dementia.10
  • Spice it up. Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its bright yellow color. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is believed to fight inflammation – and brain-related inflammation is believed to play a key role in the development of dementia. Some smaller studies suggest that turmeric can ward off age-related cognitive decline, although there's not enough evidence yet to say for sure. Still, it can’t hurt to add turmeric to your diet.11

Stuck online? Download these apps

Let’s face it – sometimes you can't break free from the computer, tablet, or smart phone. When you can’t, then give your mind and memory a workout with a computerized cognitive training (CCT) program.

Brain-training apps like Lumosity, BrainHQ, Elevate, and Peak test your memory, attention, response speed, and more. Short-term studies suggest that these brain games can help prevent mild cognitive impairment and dementia. Video games might have similar benefits.

The Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation also offers online mind games that test your attention to detail and memory skills.4,12-15

Although a review of eight trials involving 1,100+ subjects couldn’t conclude for certain that online cognitive training programs help older adults keep their minds and memories intact,12,13 it can’t hurt to give one a try – but keep screen time to a healthy limit and turn off your device before bedtime.

In a large Finnish study, cognitive training was part of a lifestyle program that included exercise, a healthy diet, and monitoring of vascular risk factors. The study showed this multi-faceted approach can improve cognitive functioning in older adults.16


References

  1. Heo J, Kim K, Fava M, et al. Effects of smartphone use with and without blue light at night in healthy adults: a randomized, double-blind, cross-over, placebo-controlled comparison. J Psychiatr Res 2017;87:61-70.
  2. The Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation. https://arpf.donorshops.com/product/DWLBRBA/download-it-now-brochure-the-power-of-brain-aerobics. [Accessed May 6, 2019]
  3. The Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation. http://alzheimersprevention.org/4-pillars-of-prevention/exercise-and-brain-aerobics/. [Accessed May 31, 2019]
  4. Do brain training memory apps for smartphones work as advertised? I’m looking to slow the memory loss that I feel I've been experiencing. Mayo Clinic Health Letter. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. May 2019:8.
  5. Brooker H, Wesnes K, Ballard C, et al. An online investigation of the relationship between the frequency of word puzzle use and cognitive function in a large sample of older adults. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry 2018. In press.
  6. Kim S, Yoo G. Instrument playing as a cognitive intervention task for older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Front Psychol 2019;10:151.
  7. Klimova B, Valis M, Kuca K. Dancing as an intervention tool for people with dementia: a mini-review of dancing and dementia. Curr Alzheimer Res 2017;14:1264.
  8. Borhan A, Hewston P, Merom D, et al. Effects of dance on cognitive function among older adults: a protocol for systematic review and meta-analysis. Syst Rev 2018;7:24.
  9. Duncan H, Nikelski J, Pilon R, et al. Structural brain differences between monolingual and multilingual patients with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer disease: evidence for cognitive reserve. Neuropsychologia 2018;109:270.
  10. Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation. http://alzheimersprevention.org/4-pillars-of-prevention/pillar-1-diet-supplements/. [Accessed May 31, 2019]
  11. Natural Medicines. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com. [Accessed May 31, 2019]
  12. Gates N, Vernooij R, Di Nisio M, et al. Computerized cognitive training for preventing dementia in people with mild cognitive impairment. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2019, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD012279.
  13. Gates N, Vernooij R, Di Nisio M, et al. Computerized cognitive training for maintaining cognitive function in cognitively healthy people in late life. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2019, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD012277.
  14. Ballesteros S, Mayas J, Prieto A, et al. Effects of video game training on measures of selective attention and working memory in older adults: Results from a randomized controlled trial. Front Aging Neurosci 2017;19:1.
  15. Pallavicini F, Ferrari A, Mantovani F. Video games for well-being: a systematic review on the application of computer games for cognitive and emotional training in the adult population. Front Psychol 2018;9:1.
  16. Ngandu T, Lehtisalo J, Solomon A, et al. A 2-year multi-domain intervention of diet, exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk monitoring versus control to prevent cognitive decline in at-risk elderly people (FINGER): a randomised controlled trial. Lancet 2015;385:2255-2263.