Mini-Medical School #5 October 2017-Cognitive Health

Cognitive Health: food, fitness and community
Stephanie Taylor MD PhD

Knitting, crochet and quilting:

“Our mission is to use knitting and other therapeutic creative activities to improve wellbeing generally, but also to complement medical treatments in the self-management of long-term health conditions. We are working closely with academics and clinicians, and as a direct result, therapeutic knitting and therapeutic knitting groups are being formally acknowledged by leading clinicians and academics for their benefits in mainstream healthcare. We have been successfully using knitting therapeutically in the NHS since 2006, so have a wealth of knowledge to share. This is just the beginning. Low-cost activity groups have the potential to not only revolutionise our individual lives but healthcare systems worldwide because they provide an affordable means of long-term support, motivation and monitoring.”  Accessed 10/6/2017 at www.stitchlinks.com

The Benefits of Knitting for Personal and Social Wellbeing in Adulthood: Findings from an International Survey. British Journal of Occupational Therapy 76(2):50-57 · February 2013

“This study aimed to identify the benefits of knitting for individuals’ personal and social wellbeing as a prerequisite to investigating its therapeutic use. Method: An online survey was conducted through an internet knitting site. Responses were received from 3,545 knitters worldwide. Quantitative data were analysed statistically to establish relationships and differences among variables and qualitative data for key themes. Results: Respondents came from a virtual community of knitters. The majority were female white adults and frequent knitters, who commonly reported knitting for relaxation, stress relief and creativity. The results show a significant relationship between knitting frequency and feeling calm and happy. More frequent knitters also reported higher cognitive functioning. Knitting in a group impacted significantly on perceived happiness, improved social contact and communication with others. Conclusion: Knitting has significant psychological and social benefits, which can contribute to wellbeing and quality of life. As a skilled and creative occupation, it has therapeutic potential – an area requiring further research.”

Locally there are quilting and knitting groups: The Monterey Peninsula Quilters Guild   http://www.mpqg.org/ and Monarch Knitting, Pacific Grove https://www.monarchknitting.com/

Stitch’N Bitch.  These groups started more than 100 years ago. Women get together for needle crafts and social commentary. I leave the rest to your imagination.

Learning new things-words, music and language:

There are multiple research studies showing that learning a second language creates new neural networks.  Learning a second language increases grey matter density and white matter integrity.  This effect is observed in all age groups, including the “elderly”.

There are also many studies that show that listening to and making music also contributes to preservation and enhancement of cognitive capacity.  Recent research (Rogenmoser et al., 2017) showed that compared to non-musicians, musicians have lower BrainAGE scores as determined by MRI studies of the brain. Amateur musicians stayed younger than professional musicians, an effect attributed to the stress of professional work or to over practicing a single skill.

In “Apollo’s Gift” Altenmuller reviews the physiological data on music therapy, extending the benefits from the craft to include the subjective pleasure of music. The pleasure one finds in music “provokes motions and emotions”. There are changes in the areas of the limbic system which mediate emotion, motivation and long term memory.  This pleasurable component not only makes music listening more frequent, but actually facilitates neurotransmission and new connections.

The Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project found that 93% of the education participants, 50-79 years of age, showed an increase in cognitive reserve compared to a control paired group that did not attend adult university courses. Locally, adult learning experiences are available at: Gentrain (http://www.gentrain.org/) at MPC, and the OLLI at CSUMB (http://olli.csumb.edu/).

Exercise with support groups:

Research on exercise robustly supports increased neuroplasticity and prevention of age related decline in mental capacity. We will return to the science in greater depth in December.

However wonderful exercise is for your brain, there is little benefit if you cannot be consistent. Some of the best ways to exercise and keep exercising is adding a social component. Specifically, join a group.  There are many groups, and you need to pick one that suits your temperament and exposes you to people you enjoy. One great idea to find compatible people is to search on Meetup (www.meetup.com) for a hiking, running or sports/fitness group.

If you are a bit of a loner, you can meet your coach on line.  There are many apps and on line programs. My Fitness Pal is one of the best apps and integrates with many of the advanced pedometers and sleep moitors. The sharing of success stories is enlightening and motivating, as you experience other people’s joy in achieving their goal.

Stress management with Forest Bathing:

Stress destroys neurons, and stress management is essential to healthy brain aging. Forest bathing therapy was developed in Japan. A forest bath is a short walk in the forest with time for viewing and appreciating the surrounding trees.
The Forest Therapy Association (http://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/) has an excellent website. They have a research page summarizing the current studies, and also have a program to train guides. Overall, forest bathing reduces stress hormones, lowers blood pressure and improves immune function.

Locally Mary Ann Rowe, PhD, will be leading some preliminary walks.  If you are interested, you can contact her at at 831-373-1017.