The Nuance

Can You Think Yourself Healthy?

From mindfulness to media multitasking, the activities you ask your brain to perform matter to your health

Markham Heid
Elemental
Published in
4 min readOct 25, 2018

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Credit: Benjavisa/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Every week, the Nuance will go beyond the basics, offering a deep and researched look at the latest science and expert insights on a buzzed-about health topic.

AAlzheimer’s is an incurable brain disease caused, in part, by the accumulation of destructive protein plaques and tangles. These plaques and tangles choke the life out of one brain region after another, causing them to shrivel up.

Drug companies and research institutions have poured hundreds of millions into the development of effective treatments for Alzheimer’s, but so far, they haven’t had much luck. “We have two classes of approved drugs that improve attention and memory a little bit, but they don’t slow the disease process,” says Dr. David Holtzman, professor and chairman of the Department of Neurology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “There’s really nothing you can buy—no pill or supplement—that will protect you.”

But some preliminary evidence does suggest that certain cognitive activities—notably, various methods of meditation—may forestall the onset of brain degradation and memory loss, or offer protection against it.

“There’s empirical evidence that if you manipulate how you think, the outcome can be positive.”

A small 2016 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (JAD) found that 12 minutes of meditation a day could improve memory and brain function among people showing signs of age-related cognitive decline. “The practice of meditation can modulate activity, increase grey matter volume and density, and promote functional connectivity in multiple brain areas compromised in Alzheimer’s disease,” says Kim Innes, first author of the study and a professor of epidemiology at the West Virginia University School of Public Health.

How is that possible? Meditation may counteract stress-related changes in gene pathways that seem to contribute to the development and progression of Alzheimer’s, Innes explains. Her study is one of many recent ones to…

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Markham Heid
Elemental

I’m a long-time contributor at TIME and other media orgs. I write mostly about health. I grew up in Michigan, but these days I live in southwest Germany.