If you still do Wordle every day because you're sure that spending those few minutes trying to figure out a five-letter word for the 500th day in a row is doing wonders for your brain, keep reading.
Philip Boucher Hayes spoke to neuroscientist and psychologist, Dr Sabina Brennan about ways to keep our brains healthy and there was bad news for those of us who feel smug when we crack our daily puzzle.
Although she acknowledged that games like Wordle helped us connect socially during the pandemic, Dr Brennan says they're of only limited use when it comes to keeping our brains healthy:
"It’s probably not as beneficial maybe as other games are because really where we get the benefit is from, you know, learning something new or learning how to do something or something that challenges us. That’s kind of where we get a real benefit, so if you find Wordle has – or even any other sort of game or puzzle – has got easy for you, well, aside from sort of enjoyment, it’s not going to harness neuroplasticity in your brain."
The real way to improve brain health is with learning, Dr Brennan says. Challenging ourselves to do something we haven't done before is much better than the daily word puzzle routine:
"When you learn a new skill, whether it’s playing a musical instrument, or learning how to do cryptic crosswords or those kind of things, new neural connections, or synapses – that's the communication part of your brain cells – they form in your brain and they allow different parts of your brain to communicate and work together more effectively. And then the longer you practise a skill, the stronger they become."
Improving or maintaining brain health is not just about crosswords and pianos though, Dr Brennan told Philip that a big part of brain health is getting exercise:
"Physical exercise, walking, but something like dancing will give you cognitive stimulation as well, mental stimulation as well because you have to figure out the moves and what comes next, so you’re getting physical exercise and mental exercise together."
Philip wondered if a decline in sight or hearing would have a detrimental effect on brain health due to the loss of sensory input to the brain. Dr Brennan agreed that it would.
We know that there are, she said, twelve modifiable factors – things we can do something about – when it comes to dementia risk and hearing loss is high on the list:
"Hearing loss is actually, has been identified as the largest significant risk factor for dementia, so thankfully, the good news on that front is that, if you wear a hearing aid, that mitigates the risk. So that’s kind of a very important message to get out there to people."
Dr Brennan stressed that, although whenever dementia risk factors are mentioned, we tend to think of an older person, it’s important for everybody to look after their brain health. And the sooner the better.
So maybe it’s time to swipe up on your phone, put it away and head out for a nice walk?
You can hear Philip’s full conversation with Dr Sabina Brennan on Today with Claire Byrne by clicking above.