Cognitive and Social Activity

Stay curious, stimulate your brain, and stay social.


⏱ 2 min read

Cognitive activity and brain exercises

Research has shown that activities that incorporate both cognitive and physical activities provide the most benefit with respect to promoting brain health. For example, dance or tai chi involve the benefits of aerobic exercise and cognitive training to learn new sequences of movements that challenge a person’s memory, attention and visual-spatial abilities.

Currently, there’s a lot of emphasis on cognitive-based training or brain-training exercises, which include activities such as video games, computerized training and interactive television-based training. Although some studies have shown that brain training improves function for that activity, and may even enhance your overall brain function, we don’t know what the best cognitive training activities are, what the long-term benefits may be and if it will help prevent dementia.

Brain-training games can be fun and have some potential for benefit. You should pick brain-training activities that you enjoy, and those that don’t cost too much money because paying more money doesn’t mean a higher chance of benefits to overall brain health.

Try to find activities with some degree of ‘desirable difficulty’: these are activities that are just the right amount of challenging. They are activating your brain in new and exciting ways such that you are learning new things; but they aren’t so challenging as to be frustrating. There is also some emerging evidence that more passive types of activities – like watching tv – are less stimulating than more active tasks, like using a computer (where you have to input something). Activities don’t have to be fancy brain-training games either; things like reading, puzzles, or trying to learn a new language can all stimulate the brain.

Social activity

Studies have also shown that low social participation, less frequent social contact, and feelings of loneliness are all associated with increased dementia risk.

Staying socially active has been associated with better brain function in some studies. However, there is no high-quality evidence to suggest that specific types of social interventions improve cognitive function.

When possible, the simple pleasures of volunteering in your community, participating in church or spiritual groups and visiting with your family and friends can help reduce social isolation and feelings of loneliness.

Engaging in conversations requires us to pay attention, remember what others are saying to us, find our words, and put together clear thoughts, all of which may help us stay mentally sharp.

There are many community-based programs appropriate for age, gender, ethnicity, and interests to help people stay socially active as they age. There are also ways to find transportation if that’s an issue for you. If you don’t know where to start, call 211 or consult to learn about offerings in your area; or contact your local community centre or YMCA to learn about their programs to help you stay social.

Learn more about social isolation in this 20-minute e-learning lesson.

Key points from this topic

  • Stay curious, stimulate your brain, and stay social.


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What other people are saying:

"This study has been a real eye-opener, as it has educated and informed me on concepts I previously did not associate with the risk of developing dementia." - Study participant, 25-34 years old.

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Anthony Levinson

Anthony J. Levinson, MD, MSc, FRCPC

Neuropsychiatrist, Professor; Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University

About this Project

Who authored and edited this page?

This page was developed by the Division of e-Learning Innovation team and Dr. Anthony J. Levinson, MD, FRCPC (Psychiatry). Dr. Levinson is a psychiatrist and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behaviour Neurosciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University. He is the Director of the Division of e-Learning Innovation, as well as the John Evans Chair in Health Sciences Educational Research at McMaster. He practices Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry, with a special focus on dementia and neuropsychiatry. He is also the co-developer of the dementia care partner resource, and one of the co-leads for the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal. He and his team are passionate about developing high-quality digital content to improve people's understanding about health. By the way, no computer-generated content was used on this page. Specifically, a real human (me) wrote and edited this page without the help of generative AI like ChatGPT or Bing's new AI or otherwise.

Are there any important disclosures or conflicts of interest?

Dr. Levinson receives funding from McMaster University as part of his research chair. He has also received several grants for his work from not-for-profit granting agencies. He has no conflicts of interest with respect to the pharmaceutical industry; and there were no funds from industry used in the development of this website.

When was it last reviewed?

August 22, 2023

What references and evidence were used to create this content?

Content was written and adapted based on credible, high-quality, non-biased sources such as MedlinePlus, the National Institutes for Mental Health, the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal, the American Psychiatric Association, the Cochrane Library, the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) and others. In particular, evidence-based content about dementia risk reduction was also derived from the World Health Organization and the Lancet Commission reports. Please see additional references on the e-learning lesson landing page

Who funded it?

The initial development of some of this content was funded by the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation, powered by Baycrest. Subsequent funding was through support from the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal, with support from the Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative, the Faculty of Health Sciences, and the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging (MIRA) at McMaster University, and the Public Health Agency of Canada. There are no conflicts of interest to declare. There was no industry funding for this content.