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Socialize for a Better Brain

"What did the grapes say when they got stepped on? Nothing – they just gave a little w(h)ine." Just a little brain teaser in honor of Brain Awareness Week (March 16-22), which we have dedicated all of our posts to this past month. We have covered how sleep, a nutritious diet, physical exercise, decreased stress and challenging your brain all contribute to optimal brain health. But just as important, social interactions and emotional support also enhance brain functioning.

The interactions with others do not have to be formal, but just having that contact is what's important. Dr. Marian Diamond, professor of anatomy at University of California Berkeley, states that love is important for brain health. When talking of love, she refers not only to social interaction, but the basics like tender loving care, kindness and positive attention. Dr. Claudia Kawas, a neurologist at the University of California, Irvine, states "there is quite a bit of evidence now suggesting that the more people you have contact with, in your own home or outside, the better you do. Interaction with people regularly, even strangers, uses easily as much brain power as doing puzzles."

Having a social life - getting out and having conversations with others, laughing and sharing - is also mentally beneficial. Ways to maintain those social ties can include attending social activities like playing cards, traveling, dancing, volunteering, and taking a class. Going to the movies with friends, attending church or social/civic clubs, or just going out for dinner all help us stay engaged with others and can also be considered good examples of brain exercise. There are several studies that have shown those with higher levels of social activity have less cognitive decline than those who are not as socially engaged. An article by the Alzheimer's Association states that research has found that leisure activities that combine physical, mental and social activity are the most likely to prevent dementia or at least, will help maintain brain vitality.

What are your favorite social activities? If you are actively looking for new ways to connect with others, make sure the social activity is meaningful to you.

As a last hurrah for Brain Awareness Week, I have included links for a variety of brain exercises for all ages from The Dana Foundation/Alliance for Brain Initiatives. Enjoy!