Brain and cognitive health

Your brain on chocolate

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

When research finds a connection between consumption of high-flavanol dark chocolate and improved brain function, it’s tempting to interpret it as permission to eat a lot of chocolate, but the truth isn’t quite so simple.

Keeping your smartphone nearby may not be so smart

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

As many as 75% of adults in the US own a smartphone. While these devices may make life more efficient, experiments with groups of college students suggest that keeping your smartphone out of sight can make it easier to focus on demanding mental tasks.

Does drinking diet soda raise the risk of a stroke?

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

While a study suggests that people who drink a diet soda or more per day may be at higher risk for stroke, there are other factors that could account for these results. Regardless, it’s wise to limit any food with artificial sweetener.

Can probiotics help treat depression and anxiety?

Athos Bousvaros, MD
Athos Bousvaros, MD, Contributor

Research is exploring the connection between the brain and intestine and how they affect each other, and whether the use of probiotics can help treat depression or anxiety.

This is your brain on alcohol

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Moderate drinking may have negative long-term effects on the brain’s health, but as yet the research is inconclusive, and must be weighed alongside the evidence that moderate alcohol consumption benefits the heart. If you’re a moderate or light drinker trying to decide whether to cut back for health reasons, you probably want to consider a variety of factors.

More evidence that exercise helps keep your brain fit

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

A review of dozens of studies on the benefits of exercise on cognitive health concluded that, for those over 50, just about any form of activity is beneficial if performed regularly.

Super-agers: This special group of older adults suggests you can keep your brain young and spry

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

While some people seem genetically predisposed to retain mental sharpness in old age, there are things anyone can do that can help maintain cognitive ability, or perhaps improve it.

What is addiction?

Howard J. Shaffer, PhD
Howard J. Shaffer, PhD, Contributor

As understanding of addiction evolves, experts now believe that the roots of addiction can be found in a person’s efforts to escape discomfort and that this drive that can take a number of possible expressions, whether through a substance or an activity. The road to recovery can be long and include setbacks, but with time life can become much better.

Resilience: A skill your child really needs to learn (and what you can do to help)

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

It’s crucial for children to learn resilience in order to navigate the world and deal with setbacks. Parents can help their children learn resilience by spending time with them regularly, encouraging their independence, and allowing them to take risks.

Racket sports serve up health benefits

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Racket sports like tennis are beneficial to health, in part because of the types of movement required, and also because of the social component of playing with others. One of the fastest-growing racket sports particularly among older adults is “pickleball,” which blends tennis, table tennis, and the backyard childhood game of Wiffle ball.