Three Ways to Keep Your Brain Sharp in a Shutdown

Porter Stansberry, Warren Buffett, and I have one thing in common: We’re all avid readers and learners.

Buffett reports spending as much as 80% of his day reading… Porter’s a student of history who has spent years educating himself on numerous topics… And longtime readers know I have dozens of subscriptions to magazines and newspapers that run the gamut from the New England Journal of Medicine to The Economist.

Porter loves to say, “There is no teaching, only learning.” And while he might not realize it, that’s good advice for all of us stuck inside during the coronavirus shutdowns.

I’ve said that we should all find a way to use our time productively. Setting a regular schedule will keep you motivated to stay active and healthy. And what better way to structure your day than to add in some regular learning activities?

You see, continued learning combats the natural decline of our brain function as we age. There’s plenty of evidence that taking part in mentally stimulating activities like reading, taking classes, and learning new skills all preserve our brain function and may slow the development of dementia.

A study out of the University of California Irvine demonstrated that structured learning in adults activated a substance called the “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” (BDNF). This molecule helps the signaling cells in your brain grow.

What’s more impressive is that BDNF plays a critical role in forming memories and can even help preserve your brain later in life.

This builds on past studies that showed improved memory scores with regular reading and writing tasks… much like you’d get in a classroom (real or virtual).

So while we’re stuck indoors during this shutdown, we should make learning a priority. Here are my top three ways to keep learning…

1. Read.

Reading is one of the best – and cheapest – ways to learn. Reading engages the brain in multiple ways, and several studies tie it to improved memory later in life. A 2013 study in Neurology found that the more people read, especially as they got older, the fewer signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia they had.

Although libraries remain closed for in-person visits, you can still check out e-books on your electronic devices. Similarly, you can buy e-books from Amazon and other places.

You can also try your local bookshop – some now offer curbside pickup services or delivery. My researcher was able to get a few books this way from a shop in Baltimore recently.

If you’re looking for some good book recommendations, here are some my team and I have enjoyed in the last few weeks:

  • Circe by Madeline Miller
  • The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
  • In Vino Duplicitas: The Rise and Fall of a Wine Forger Extraordinaire by Peter Hellman
  • Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight
  • The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic by Mike Duncan
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

If you don’t want to read or have trouble reading, audiobooks are just as effective. They’re engaging and enjoyable. In fact, one study from Tehran, Iran found that audiobooks boosted mental health in seniors. Listening lowered symptoms of problems like anxiety and depression.

2. Go back to school in your living room.

If you’re interested in a particular topic, you can probably find a class about it. We recommend checking for classes on websites like Coursera, edX, and Canvas Network. Harvard also offers courses for free. Learn more about what interests you to keep your mind young and healthy.

Personally, I love The Great Courses series. They offer everything from classes on cooking to ancient history and mindfulness. They have a free trial right now, which you can access here.

Learning a new language is a great way to engage your brain and plan for future travels. We know someone who is taking Japanese classes and remarked how signing up for a paid class online helps her get up in the morning to get her day started. If you’re struggling with routine or depression, having a paid class to attend could help.

Right now, Rosetta Stone offers a three-month plan for its language courses for about $36. They offer everything from Spanish to Turkish. They’re also adding in free, live group coaching through June to help folks practice social distancing while still learning.

I also really love a good, well-researched documentary. I’ve started on Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War series and just recently enjoyed the Netflix series Greatest Events of WWII in Colour. It’s an eye-opening look at some of the most important battles of the war.

3. Improve your financial literacy.

It turns out that reading my newsletters can help protect your brain as you age, too. We’ve seen several studies point to a connection between financial literacy and better brain function, including lower rates of dementia.

With so much uncertainty in the markets and the economy today, it’s a good time to work on building your financial understanding. Do what I do and go to the experts.

Today, everyone wants to know about gold. That’s why the expert I’d want to hear from most is gold-investing legend John Doody.

Yesterday, John broke down exactly what’s happening with gold and silver. He also answered the question we’ve all had recently: Is it the right time to buy these crisis hedges?

If you missed John’s presentation, don’t worry. You can still watch it for a short time, right here.

Education is crucial to preserving your brain function and keeping your mental health in good shape. And there’s no better time to take a deeper dive into history, literature, and finance – so be sure to watch John’s presentation and keep reading Health & Wealth Bulletin.

How are you keeping your brain active? Send your tips to [email protected].

What We’re Reading…

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
April 28, 2020