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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Trading GPS for Paper Maps: Is Traditional Navigation Better for Your Brain?

Posted By: Advancing Care

Medically reviewed by Fabio Danisi, MD

Is your GPS helping you or hurting you?

A recent study from McMaster University in Canada suggests that using physical maps instead of GPS could help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia symptoms.

Why? Because exercising your orientation and navigation skills is a great way to promote brain plasticity and spatial memory.

Just like physical exercise, mental exercise boosts brain health. Learn more about the importance of mental exercise and how you can flex your muscles next time you travel.

The importance of mental exercise

Mental exercise is often recommended as one way to potentially help prevent or delay the onset of cognitive decline and, as some research shows, certain forms of dementia.

The underlying idea is based on the concept of "cognitive reserve," which suggests that engaging in mentally stimulating activities can build up a reserve of cognitive abilities that help the brain become more resilient to damage from conditions like Alzheimer's disease.

Activities that help contribute to cognitive reserve include:

  • Continuous learning enhances brain stimulation through education and skill acquisition.
  • Intellectual activities like reading, music, puzzles and language learning boost cognition.
  • Social interaction promotes brain health through regular engagement with others.
  • Physical exercise improves blood circulation to the brain and neural connectivity.
  • Healthy lifestyle choices like a balanced diet, proper sleep, stress management and avoiding harmful substances contribute to overall brain health.

Ditching the GPS

While relying on GPS and the convenience of modern technology isn’t bad, it can help turn it off sometimes.

Travel is a great way to use your brain creatively and keep your mind sharp. Study a map, go to a place you’ve never been before and enjoy the adventure of getting a little lost as you explore new things.

But there are also easy ways to incorporate more navigation into your daily life, like exploring a new park or taking a different route for your jog or bike ride. And when you’re driving, find a different way to get to work or another familiar location without GPS.

Interested in learning more about your cognitive health? Schedule a consultation with a WMCHealth neurologist at a location convenient for you, visit WMCHealth Physicians and Bon Secours Medical Group.