Engage brain: how did you fare in our mind-expanding Instagram quiz?

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1. Which of these fruit combinations have been shown to boost memory function?

Blueberries and grapes. That’s right: a wholesome pairing of these two supermarket favourites enhances memory and spatial recognition in mice. The key ingredients are polyphenols: mice who received a diet rich in these compounds from the two fruits spent more time examining objects they had not seen before and could remember where the exit to their enclosure was, even when their starting point changed. They also lived much longer, sharper lives. Interestingly, the improvement was massively enhanced when extracts from both grapes and blueberries were present rather than each in isolation – so grab that smoothie-maker. Here’s the full story.

2. Which of these has been shown to better boost child brain growth?

Having a chatty family. Surprisingly, throwing all the grown-up words you can at kids doesn’t seem to have as significant an effect as once thought. A seminal 1995 study identified what is known as the “30-million-word gap”, whereby children from wealthier families had been exposed to heaps more words by the age of three. New research shows, however, that “conversational turns”, or back-and-forth exchanges, are far more important – and that “on average, children from poor but chatty families had language skills and brain activity similar to those wealthier children”. Read more about it here.

3. We know that air pollution affects brain function. But which of these activities does it impact more severely?

Verbal skills. From a study of 162 counties throughout China – a country battling some of the worst pollution in the world – scientists found that air pollution takes a heavier toll on maths scores than verbal ones. It also disproportionately affected men, perhaps because air pollution affects the areas of the brain that support verbal skills, which are commonly more enhanced in women. If China met US standards on air quality, incredible improvements could be achieved: scientists showed that someone who scored at median (50th percentile levels) could progress to the 58th percentile on math tests and the 63rd percentile on verbal tests. Check out the full article here.

4. Which essential brain nutrient is the ^'Western' diet (processed and takeaway foods, red meat and refined sugars) deficient in?

Iron. A shortfall of this humble mineral has been associated with poorer maths test scores in teenagers and adolescents. More generally, the overconsumption of carbohydrates and fat common in the Western dietary pattern has been shown to impair thinking skills, and ultimately lead to metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Read the grim truth here.

5. Which of these was found to be surprisingly effective at staving off dementia?

Being married. Call off the divorce lawyer. Put the wedding album back on the coffee table. A review of 15 studies, involving a total of 800,000 participants, found that people who are single all their lives are 42% more likely to develop dementia in later life than those with a spouse. The reasons, scientists suspect, are that married people are likelier to have healthy lifestyles, be social and have someone to share their problems with. “Spouses may help to encourage healthy habits, look out for their partner’s health and provide important social support,” said Dr Laura Phipps. Check out the full story here.

6. Which of these two styles of exercise promotes better brain function?

Light physical exercise all day. We know that a sedentary lifestyle can heighten the risk of developing Alzheimer’s in later life. But why is that? The brain is a glucose-hungry organ: it weighs about 2% of body mass but demands about 20% of our resting energy requirements, mostly in the form of glucose, the primary brain fuel. If this energy supply is disrupted it can impair and even damage brain cells – and levels that are too low or too high can have an equally severe effect. The best way to improve this regulation is light-intensity activity after eating – washing the dishes, a short walk, or an active commute to work. In fact, exercising little and often is much better than a lung-busting CrossFit session in the morning, if that gives way to a day slumped in front of a monitor. Read all about it here.

How many did you get right?

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