Smart ways to sharpen brains during coronavirus lockdown to keep balanced

Brains need exercising as much as bodies while we are cooped up.

Research shows the brain is just like any other muscle – it changes over time and gets stronger when you use it.

Dr Dawn Harper, a GP on Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies, and author of Live Well to 101, gives some simple ways to stay sharp during lockdown.

Start a puzzle challenge

My parents, who are 82, ordered identical copies of Sudoku and codeword books and every day at 3pm, they pick a puzzle from each, and race each other.

Dad is better with numbers and mum with words so this ­encourages both to mentally flex various areas of their brains.

If you live alone, try it with a friend on the phone.

TIP: Swap books with neighbours. Leave them on their doorstep or knock and have a nice chat from a safe distance.

If you live alone, try a puzzle over the phone with a friend or family member

Curb the news

Limit time you spend watching news. The 24/7 virus cycle is frightening and draining. Stress makes your mind feel foggy and interfere with sleep.

I’ve limited viewing to once a day. Stick to newspapers to control of your intake.

Get the right nutrition

The brain talks to the gut, that’s why when we’re stressed we might get a dodgy tummy.

The gut talks to the brain too, so keeping good bacteria in at a healthy level by ­eating fruit, veg, beans and pulses is wise.

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TRY: A new recipe from one of the cookbooks gathering dust. Or search for a recipe online to use up ingredients in the fridge.

Stay in touch

Lockdown has created a unique opportunity to communicate with people we may have forgotten about. Go through your address book, then call somebody you haven’t spoken to for ages.

You may be reaching out to someone struggling emotionally. Helping others brings a sense of gratification and will boost mental health.

Lockdown provides a unique opportunity to connect with people you’ve forgotten about – reach out

Get learning

There are many great apps to help you learn a new language. So use the time to work on your basic French and boost your memory.

Play time

When I was writing my book, I met a wonderful man who used to play the piano for the “old folk” at a care home – he was 101! But he took so much joy from playing an instrument.

Doing things for your enjoyment makes your brain release the happy hormone dopamine. You could search online for a virtual bridge club or try playing chess over the telephone with a loved one. No cheating!

Balancing act

Studies from the Medical Research Council have shown if you can stand on one leg with your eyes closed for ten seconds daily, you are three times less likely to die in the next 13 years.

It boils down to increasing your core stability because falls are a huge source of mental ­decline and linked mortality.

Standing on one leg with your eyes closed daily can improve core strength

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Beware: When you first start practising this, hold on to something as it can be disorienting and you do not want to fall.

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Enjoy nature

Keep a journal of all the different birds you see in the garden. If you don’t recognise one, try looking it up in a book or online.

Tip: If you don’t have a garden, head to the park.

Get creative

Whether it’s continuing a hobby or getting a new one, creativity is great for mental agility.

I like making scented candles at home. Order some soya wax flakes online – or ask a relative to do it – as well as candle wicks and essential oils.


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