Kate Walsh is best known for her role as Addison Montgomery, the whip-smart neonatal surgeon, on “Grey’s Anatomy,” but she’s just as committed to keeping her brain sharp in real life. “Memorizing lines is one way [I exercise my brain], also by drawing and coloring. Crosswords are always great. I think reading is great—reading actual books, not tablets. It slows down your eyes again, and makes you process — that’s just very healthy for the brain,” she told Coveteur.com.
Walsh is definitely onto something. In the past, it was thought that the brain doesn’t change, meaning memory loss and other effects of aging were deemed inevitable. But more recently, researchers are confirming that it’s possible to create new signals between brain cells and even create new cells—a term called “neurological plasticity.” And exercising your mind is one great way to maintain a healthy and optimally functioning brain.
According to a Harvard Health blog post, you should engage in “mental gymnastics," such as puzzles, math problems, painting, and crafts to keep your brain as agile as possible. A study published in 2000 found that people who challenge their brains with activities such as reading or playing chess were 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease compared to those who didn’t stimulate their grey matter. And in a 2013 paper, it was shown that reading helps decelerate memory loss and brain function.
On top of that, engaging in something new — anything that takes you out of your comfort zone — is great for the brain. “Be open to new experiences that cause you to see the world and do things differently,” Dr. Anne Fabiny, chief of geriatrics at Cambridge Health Alliance and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told the Harvard Health blog. This can include learning a new instrument or language and traveling.
Walsh also incorporates other lifestyle habits demonstrated by research to help keep the brain on point, like eating healthy fats. “We’re sort of socialized to stay away from fats in our culture, when it’s actually the opposite; sugars and carbs are the ones that are bad, our brains are 60% fat. We need good fats, and the proof is in the blood work,” she told Coveteur.com.
Science backs this, too. According to the Cleveland Clinic, essential fatty acids (which must be obtained through diet) help brain cells make new connections. “Several studies show a link between omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fish oil and decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well as overall cognitive decline,” Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, told the Cleveland Clinic.
Walsh also says that she’s a fan of meditation, another activity shown to help improve cognitive function and curtail deterioration processes typically associated with aging, according to a review by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
In our overwhelmingly image-conscious culture, it’s great to hear a celebrity underscore the importance of keeping the brain fit as much as the arms and abs. Whether you’ll always see her as a life-saving surgeon or an actress, let Walsh inspire you to get take a break from your Netflix binges and take your brain for a workout — you’ll be happy you did decades down the line.
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