Protecting Your Brain Health During the Pandemic

Our guide to working around the current challenges to cognitive fitness

All those precautions you're taking to stay safe during the pandemic? Ironically, they might be putting your brain's health at risk.

"Our heavy reliance on technology, not seeing family and grandkids, putting off doctor's appointments, not going to the gym and a lack of physical touch, of socializing, and of purpose – all lead to 'negative neuroplasticity,' the potential to accelerate the risk for cognitive decline," says former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona, now distinguished professor of public health at Arizona State and the author of "30 Days to a Better Brain."

"Brain health is even more important now because so much is under threat," he says. The answer? Flip COVID-19's challenges to opportunities, says neuroscientist Sandra Bond Chapman, founder of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas. "For everything you do, ask, 'What is this adding to my life?' Are you doing crosswords just to pass the time and not be alone? Or are you doing different kinds of activities to stretch your mind and add meaning and purpose?"

Prioritizing brain self-care pays off in the long-term, she says. "And the brain's neuropharmacy changes — you get a dose of dopamine — just by telling yourself, 'I can do this; it can happen.'"

Brain Need: Mental Challenges

Hurdle: Less Travel, Arts Outings, Meetings