Lots of people turn to crossword puzzles, Sudoku and other brain teasers in order to keep their mind sharp, but there is one good way to work out your brain that few people realize: Drinking wine. This is good news for the many people who enjoy unwinding with a glass of wine and joins a long list of other health benefits that come from the beverage.
Yale School of Medicine’s Professor Gordon Shepherd, a top neuroscientist, says that the act of drinking wine can engage more of your brain than any other type of human behavior, spurring reactions in the emotional and sensory parts of your brain. Solving math problems and listening to music pale in comparison to the stimulating effects of wine.
The workout begins when you sniff the wine, which he says entails a high degree of control over one of the body’s biggest muscles. Moving the wine around in your mouth, meanwhile, engages the muscles that are responsible for controlling the tongue. Once it hits your taste buds, the workout really kicks up a notch.
Shepherd says that the wine molecules themselves lack flavor; instead, our brains create the sensation we then perceive as the wine’s taste in a process similar to the way in which we view colors. The wine’s molecules stimulate the taste and odor receptors in your mouth, which activates the cognitive areas that govern pleasure, pattern recognition and memory. All of these areas of the brain work together to create the taste of the wine. He said that other factors, such as gender, age, mood and saliva makeup, can also influence the way that a person tastes wine.
If drinking wine normally is a good workout for the brain, it might be tempting to believe that taking a lot of big gulps of wine could give the brain an even better workout. However, Shepherd cautions that doing so can saturate your system. Instead, he suggests taking tiny sips of wine and avoiding spitting out your sips if you want to give your brain the best workout possible.
While red wine is the variety that is most often touted for its health effects, Shepherd says these particular brain benefits are linked to the act of drinking wine itself, and it doesn’t matter whether you drink red wine or white wine.
However, there are a few reasons you might want to opt for red anyway. First of all, it contains compounds that can prevent several types of cancer and protect membranes from oxidation. It has also been shown to boost the cardiovascular system and provide protection from heart disease. It can also to treat one of our nation’s biggest “silent killers”: Hypertension.
Shepherd’s revelations are not the first we’ve heard about the benefits that wine can have on the brain. Red wine has the potential to boost memory, according to studies. It has also been shown to help protect the brain from sustaining damage from a stroke. Scientists have also discovered that the bioactive compounds found in red wine can help suppress the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Many of red wine’s benefits can be attributed to the natural polyphenol resveratrol, which can trigger the death of cancer cells, reduce inflammation and LDL cholesterol, and prevent insulin resistance. If you prefer white wine and want to switch to red for its benefits, some good starting points are Pinot Noir and Beaujolais thanks to their smooth flavor.
The next time you want to exercise your brain, toss aside the crossword puzzle book and pencil and get out your corkscrew and wine glass instead!