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Can Being an Armchair Quarterback Help Your Brain

Posted 9/26/2017 by UHBlog

A good game of touch football with your kids or grandkids is not only fun – it may also help to improve your brain health. Talk to us about the benefits of a healthy brain as you age.

Are You an Armchair Quarterback?

“Use it or lose it” has become a commonly used phrase to remind you that the brain can be kept healthy with regular exercise – just like your muscles. Although some people tend to associate brain exercise with thinking more than with physical activity, physical exercise may actually be the best way to keep your brain in top shape, says psychologist Jeffrey Janata, PhD.

“Over the last half dozen years or so, the idea of exercising the brain has created an explosion in brain games and all kinds of things that have been designed purportedly to improve people’s cognitive function,” Dr. Janata says. “But the science on whether they have any real benefits – and what those benefits might be – is unclear. If you really want to improve your brain health, the first thing you should do is to make sure you’re involved with more physical exercise and less sedentary activity. Believe it or not, going outside and throwing the football around is good for your brain.”

Other factors that are thought to help you achieve better brain health are socializing with other people, minimizing stress and getting sufficient sleep.

“Creative activities do help, but the brain has so many independent functions that it's hard to prove global benefit of a single activity,” Dr. Janata says. “For example, there is some evidence to suggest that if you do crossword puzzles, it improves your ability to retrieve words. But there is no evidence that it has a more universal benefit, like improving memory or cognitive function in general. While watching a football game on television, it may be fun to strategize in your mind and try to anticipate upcoming play calls, but it isn’t necessarily going to improve your brain function.”

Playing a musical instrument, Dr. Janata suggests, is one creative activity that may have a general, positive impact on brain function. However, he says, research about how different types of activities might improve brain health and cognitive development – and possibly prevent or delay dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions – is in the very early stages.

“Most research on brain function is very new, but expanding quickly,” he says. “For example, it wasn’t long ago that we didn’t have the imaging capabilities we have today, and we’re still in the early stage of discovering more about how this complex organ works.”

Jeffrey Janata, PhD, is a psychologist and Director of the Division of Psychology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Janata or any other doctor online.

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