Birding and Alzheimer’s Prevention
During my impressionable growing up years, my mom ran a respite care business in our home. The ladies she cared for introduced me to the problems with aging: forgetfulness, fading memories, and loss of dignity through dementia and Alzheimer’s.
I didn’t know many kids my age who could identify ‘Alzheimer’s’ as a proper noun, and not a Southern rendition of ‘Old Timer’s.’ Ever since those days, I thought that memory loss and odd behaviors went hand-in-hand with growing old. Needless to say, I feared growing old.
Now that I have reached the middle stage of my life, I realize that we can’t know with certainty what will happen to our minds as we age. But we CAN take some preventative measures, no matter what our age, to offset the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
According to a study by Harvard Medical School, diet, exercise, and sleep have proven to help ward off Alzheimer’s. Research has yet to prove definitively that learning new things and connecting socially work or not. In 2016, Time Health reported on a study that proved that “a speed-processing-based training can indeed lower rates of cognitive decline and dementia.” (If you want to take the speed-processing-based training that study participants experienced, you can find it here).
Lifelong Learning Means Taking Up New Pastimes
According to my reckoning, birding provides the perfect activity to avoid Alzheimer’s and dementia. Let me explain. Lifelong learning keeps our minds sharp, no matter what our age. Brain cells needs exercising just as much as muscles in our bodies.
Seven years ago, I didn’t know the difference between a House Finch and a Cassin’s Finch. But when I went out hiking with my camera, I could often find birds (safer than bears, I suppose). I would snap their photos, and naturally, I wanted to know what I had seen.
I started keeping a bird list and even signed up to receive alerts of nearby new-to-me birds. Now, my lexicon includes words like ‘cere,’ ‘supercilium,’ and ‘scapulars.’ My list has grown from zero to 505. One of my favorite parts about birding? The artistic side—I love photographing the birds that I see.Three surprising ways birding can help you avoid Alzheimer's. #birding #lifelonglearning Click To Tweet
Three Ways That Birding Can Ward off Alzheimer’s
Connecting socially—another anti-Alzheimer’s activity—takes place naturally whilst birding. I’ve met a lot of cool people in random places. Even introverts like me find something to chat about when they spot another human with binoculars slung around their neck. I’ve made friends outside of work, too—something that rarely happened before I started birding.
While I realize that birding probably doesn’t qualify as a fancy speed-processing test, I can assure you that it does involve split-second decisions. A group of birders can sound like auctioneers as they point out what they see. “Common yellowthroat-three-o’clock-flying-left-oops-just-dropped-down-to-six-o’clock-perched-and-singing.” Binoculars and brains scramble to make sense of the information and register it before the bird takes off. Yep. I’d call that high-speed processing!
And finally, birding equals exercise! I walked over ten miles today in search of birds. I found some that I really wanted to see and dipped (birder talk for didn’t see) on others. Today’s hiking didn’t involve many hills or a lot of aerobic exercise, but it often does. Birding allures everyone from youngsters to octogenarians, nonagenarians, and even centenarians! I once met an avid birder (ok, I helped him climb into the back of my pickup) in his early nineties who used a walker to get around.
So, if you seek an area of life-long learning that will give you speed-processing, social connections, and exercise, I challenge you to try birding!
Want to Explore the *Sport of Birding?
You can download the Merlin Bird ID app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to get started. Birding with other people makes it easier to learn. the Audubon Society has great tips for beginning birders on their website. Another free app, eBird, lets you keep an electronic list of bird sightings.
Scientists use these sightings to track bird populations and migrations in a new collaboration with ‘citizen scientists’-that’s geek speak for birders who submit data. Other companies also produce electronic bird books or birding apps. I use iBird Pro to help me identify birds I don’t know (they have a free version, as well).
Of course, on days when birds don’t show up, I end up taking photographs of dragonflies and butterflies. Next thing you know, I’ll be buying insect apps…
*Come back next week, and we’ll discuss whether or not birding qualifies as a sport.
Q4U: What do you do to maintain a habit of lifelong learning?
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