birdingBirding 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).

The reasons to start birding might surprise you! Find out how bird watching can ward off Alzheimer's. #birding, #montezumaquail, #bird, #selfcareLifelong 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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12 Comments

  1. Anita,
    Maybe I’m a lazy “birder,” but I love having my bird feeder right outside my kitchen window. I can now identify all the different birds that come – even the ones who only appear seasonally. It is fun and I delight in their antics. It also reminds me of God’s amazing creativity when a beautiful goldfinch, a bluebird, and a red finch all joined the buffet together. And little did I know, until reading this, it’s good for my mind as well in warding off Alzheimers which runs in our family. All around “good for you” fun!
    Blessings,
    Bev xx
    Bev @ Walking Well With God recently posted…What Are You Going To Do Good For Yourself Today?My Profile

  2. I do love our birds, and now I’m enjoying the fun of introducing them to our grandson. On his last visit, we looked in the field guide for pictures that matched the black-capped chickadee who was raiding the suet feeder. So, I guess it’s going to be my grandies and all our adventures that will be my insurance against dementia.
    And reading. I’m clinging to the hope that if I keep reading books that feel as if they are “too hard for me” I’ll keep those neural pathways alive and active.
    Michele Morin recently posted…The Freedom of LimitationsMy Profile

  3. Wonderful post, Anita. I love that you encourage us to continually be learning. It is good for us in so many ways, including our minds as we age. I love that you reminded us learning must be a lifelong habit. It will protect us from becoming stagnated. Students for life – a longer and healthier life. Blessings!
    Joanne Viola recently posted…We’re Puzzle PiecesMy Profile

  4. I’m like Bev…an armchair birder! We’ve been watching and listening to a Redtail screeching overhead. They migrate here to mate. Love to see them. My mother-in-law, now 92 1/2 does crossword puzzles, word searches, and other miscellaneous brain puzzles and she reads a lot! My mom was a news hound – she could debate anyone. On her death bed? She was as sharp as a tack, her body just gave out. Great post, Anita, great photos…looking for that coffee table photo book. xo

  5. Very interesting post, Anita! I’ve never considered bird watching, though I do love to spot a Cardinal, Bluejay or Owl in my backyard and elsewhere. There are quite a variety of birds in my community, which has a lot of wooded sections. I hope you are doing well and thanks for helping us to find ways to stay well and healthy on into our twilight years!
    Beth recently posted…Comment on 6 Motivators for Improving Your Love Language Deficit by 5 Verses to Pray that will Help You Win the Spiritual Battle – Counting My BlessingsMy Profile

  6. I’m not as good at birding as you but I love watching them at my own feeders and in my backyard. I have 2 sets of red cardinal mates, numerous blue jays and lots of nuthatches, titmouse, chickadees and junkos. They always bring pleasure to me as I watch them feed and interact with each other. I am looking forward to spring so I can get my birdbath back out as well. It’s too cold to have it out in the winter.
    I agree with you about all this. Keeping ourselves learning and engaged helps with keeping our mind alert and active.
    Thanks for these words!
    Rachel Q recently posted…When Pouring Coffee Brought Change To My LifeMy Profile

  7. Here’s the thing, Anita: I enjoy birdsongs and your posts about birding, but as a hobby? Not so much. In the past four years, I have learned so much about social media, blogging, writing, and publishing. I never grow tired of learning more about what I believe God has called me to do. I am especially excited that tomorrow I am taking the next step into the world of social media, and actually meeting a blogging friend in person. How terrific is that! I can’t wait to learn more about her story, and maybe share some of mine. Thank you for looking out for our health! Please keep the posts and pictures coming:)

  8. Continuing to learn new things and keeping our minds active is important at any age. I don’t know much about birds, though I love owls so I liked the picture at the top! I love your enthusiasm though- you almost make me want to give it a try!
    Lesley recently posted…To Whom Would We Go?My Profile

  9. Love this and the idea of adding new things into our lives the older we get, when the inclination is to believe that we can’t ‘teach an old dog, new tricks’. As a person who has had a lot of dogs in my life, i will tell you that all you need is the proper motivation, and an old dog will indeed learn. As believers, our motivation for healthy living (mental and physical) ought to be that we would be able to serve and glorify Him. thanks! and PS… I have already been enjoying the cardinal who are just appearing outside after spring. maybe a bird app would be fun. thanks for the idea!

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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