Harvard Health’s New Cognitive Fitness Course Outlines a 6-Step Plan for Protecting Brain Health

Photo: Getty Images/ Eva Szombat
This time of the year, people are scrubbing their refrigerators, banishing sugary snacks from their pantries, and renewing their commitment to regular exercise. It's the season (for better or for worse) where people pay close attention to their physical health...but what about our minds? If you plan on living into old age, you want to make sure your brain is still going just as strong as your body, right? And like all health goals, that means taking action now.

Like other important life skills (budgeting, building healthy relationships, maintaining happiness), classes on brain health aren't part of school curriculums. But you can enroll in a virtual brain health class now, which is being taught through Harvard Medical School.

The Harvard Health cognitive fitness course ($30) is a 10 module curriculum focusing on preventing cognitive decline connected to aging. This is important because Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases will affect one out of every five people at some point in their lifetime. What's encouraging is that scientific researchers have found that much of this decline is connected to lifestyle habits—which are more in our control than other risk factors, like genetics.

Students who take the Harvard Health cognitive fitness course are taught six actionable steps they can take directly linked to preventing a decline in cognitive function as they age—what the instructors call cognitive fitness. The steps include: eating a plant-based diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, managing stress, nurturing social connections, and continuing to challenge your brain. Virtual class goers are taught exactly how each of these steps is connected to brain health and what they can put into practice to live out each one.

One spice connected to brain health: turmeric. Watch the video below to learn more.

Who is your professor you ask? That would be none other than Alvaro Pascual-Leone, MD, PhD, a neurology professor and an associate dean for clinical and translational research at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Pascual-Leone has been studying how the brain works since the '80s; he knows a lot about the gray matter in our heads. Doctor and health writer Leonaura Rhodes, MD, is co-teaching the class with Dr. Pascual-Leone. As a public health educator in the UK, preaching about how our lifestyle habits impact our brains is part of her job, and now she's bringing her insights to Harvard.

Enrollment for the Harvard Health cognitive fitness course is open now, and this being a virtual course, it can be completed on your own time. If you're looking for a way to start 2021 with your head in the right place, this just might be it. And, hey, if you want to tell people you went to Harvard when you're done, okay by us!

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