Music Fights Dementia One Song at a Time—and 3 More Ways to Stay Mentally Fit

Photo: Stocksy/Bonnin Studio
Driving around in the car while belting out Kelly Clarkson with your friends sure does wonders for your mood. But did you know it's also sneakily working to boost your brain health? It's true. In fact, the connection between social singing and cognitive health is so strong that there are at least 67 choirs across the country—each composed of people with dementia and their caregiver—meant to strengthen mental fitness.

On Thursday, The Washington Post highlighted the Giving Voice Initiative, an organization that helps to form choruses for those living with Alzheimer's disease. There's research to back up this feel-good endeavor: When people with dementia sing with loved ones, they experience improved quality of life as well as reinforced communication skills. Other fringe benefits include higher self-esteem and social support. Music is so strongly tied to emotion that it works to activate a response in the brain directly connected to memory formation. Coupled with continued learning, this type of therapeutic activity proves to be exceptionally powerful.

If you're hesitant to sing in the shower let alone a group, rest assured that an organized sing-along is by no means the only way to improve cognitive function. Here are three more ways to stay sharp:

1. Fill up on fiber and healthy fats.

Genius Foods author and brain health expert Max Lugavere has made it his mission to educate people about filling their plates in a way that feeds their brain as well as their body. The Cliff Notes version of his advice: Sugar and processed foods are out; fiber, healthy fats, mushrooms, and meat (in moderation) are in.

2. Do a little dance.

The music-mind connection doesn't just come alive by singing—it's strengthened by dancing, too. Similar to learning new lyrics, learning new dance moves activates the hippocampus, which aides in the prevention of dementia.

3. Go barefoot.

Yes, seriously. According to podiatrist Emily Splichal, DPM, your nervous system is especially sensitive in your feet. "People don’t even realize that the nerves [in your feet] age," she says. "The more we wear shoes, we take away that information between the feet and your brain. That’s why it’s important to be barefoot and stimulate your nervous system in that way." To follow this advice, try yoga or Pilates—that is, choose workouts where your shoes and socks are left at the door.

If you're looking for a way to boost your cognitive function that's a bit more extreme, try banking your stem cells. And in case you were wondering, here's how veganism affects your brain.

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