If you’re feeling a little fuzzy and forgetful, and not as sharp as in the summer months, you may want to blame it on the colder weather. According to a 2018 study from Columbia University, for many people, especially older adults, the cold weather can create a significant enough effect on the brain that they go from scoring in the normal range on a cognitive test to qualifying for a dementia diagnosis. Study authors found that when cognitive tests were given during the winter, participants functioned as if they were more than four years older as compared to performance during the summer.
The main theory behind this is that a lack of sunlight may affect the hypothalamus, which in turn affects the formation of neurotransmitters in the brain. And, it wasn’t just the cognitive tests that changed during the winter months. Higher levels of Alzheimer’s proteins and genes in cerebrospinal fluid were also found.
Brain fog itself is not a medical condition. It’s simply a term used for certain symptoms that can affect your ability to think, possibly leaving you feeling confused or disorganized, or even making it difficult to focus or put thoughts into words. But, slower cognition in the winter doesn’t have to be the norm. Here are some strategies you can employ to help beat brain fog and stay sharp whatever the season.
- Schedule brain-training sessions. We all schedule our exercise sessions, right? So why not schedule your brain training? Dr. Gregory Jicha, an associate director at the University of Kentucky’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center followed three groups of older adults. The first two groups were tasked with reading or doing origami and the third group was told to follow their normal schedule. After four weeks, the first two groups showed significant cognitive improvement. And it doesn’t have to be origami. What matters is structured time and focused attention of at least an hour each day.
- Eat your daily greens. According to Steven Masley, MD, author of The Better Brain Solution, eating just one cup of green vegetables per day makes the brain functionally 11 years younger than the brain of someone who doesn’t eat greens.
- Add salmon to your diet. Salmon is a top source for Omega-3 fatty acids, making it a powerful food for staving off brain fog. Eating baked or broiled salmon once a week is correlated to larger brain volumes and protection from Alzheimer’s disease. If you don’t like salmon, try substituting some avocado, a couple tablespoons of guacamole, a tablespoon of olive oil (when cooking), or a small handful of nuts.
- Find a workout you enjoy and commit to it! Numerous studies have shown that regular physical activity, no matter what it is, may cut the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50 percent. According to Cyrus Raji, MD, PhD of Washington University in St. Louis, it’s never too late to start. Physical activity improves blood circulation all over the body, and that includes the brain. Exercise also produces endorphins, the “feel-good” chemicals in the brain. The endorphins increase motivation and enjoyment, improving your outlook on life.
Check out some of our classes specifically geared towards active agers and older adults: Active Spirit, Silver Core Fusion, Arthritis Plus, Silver Sneakers, and more.