Socializing—Even on Zoom—Is What’s Best for the Brain

 

By Laurie Mason, program coordinator

We all know doing crossword puzzles is a great way to exercise our brains. But neurosurgeon and author Sanjay Gupta, M.D. says crossword puzzles are nowhere near as healthy as talking to a friend. “Crossword puzzles are great, but they’re no substitute for everything else you should be doing for your brain,” Gupta told Dax Shephard in a conversation about brain health on podcast Armchair Expert.

“Finishing a crossword puzzle on your own isn’t nearly as impactful in boosting brain function as having a face-to-face interaction with a friend,” Gupta writes in his 2021 book on brain health, Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age. In fact Gupta likens crossword puzzles to sit-ups: they’re great, but you wouldn’t want to rely on sit-ups only for your overall health routine. 

How can something so fun be so good for the brain? It’s all about using different areas of the brain in a coordinated way. When you’re talking to a friend, said Gupta, your brain is fully activated. 

“The friendship, the topic, getting outside your comfort zone, challenging each other a little bit, whatever it may be, those things end up being better for harnessing and recruiting all these different areas of the brain,” he told Shephard. The goal, emphasized Gupta, is to always access new areas of the brain.

This is how Friendship Center helps its members exercise their brains to the fullest, even when it can’t be face-to-face. During Covid-19 quarantine, Friendship Center provides a daily menu of purpose-driven interactions via Zoom with its Community Connect Adult Program.

Gupta would approve. Even when our social interactions must be done via Zoom or the phone, making online and phone conversations purpose-driven is an excellent method of brain stimulation, as well as a cure for loneliness, advised Gupta. 

Getting beyond “Hi, how are you?” and creating an exchange asking for information is key. “If you can be vulnerable to somebody,” said Gupta, it does harness new areas of the brain, it creates an emotional attachment that really fires up your amygdala, and the memories are stronger; there’s a physiology behind all this.” 

With Friendship Center, that can mean discovering a member’s favorite song and singing it, or locating the house they grew up in on Google Maps and taking a wonderful brain-stimulating walk down memory lane with friends! 

You can help all of us at Friendship Center provide urgently needed care during Covid-19 by visiting our Festival of Hearts  virtual fundraiser January 25-February 6. Bid early, bid often! Festival of Hearts raises money to help low-income seniors participate in all programs Friendship Center offers.