Why These Neurologists Want You To Wash Dishes For Better Brain Health (Really!)
If neurologists Dean Sherzai, M.D., and Ayesha Sherzai, M.D., had to pick one tell-all for stellar brain health, it would be razor-sharp focus. "Attention is the gatekeeper of consciousness," Dean says on the mindbodygreen podcast. "If your attention is affected, everything behind that is affected disproportionately1. You can't memorize; you can't do executive functions..." And since your ability to focus naturally tanks as you grow older, it's important to strengthen it as much as you can while you're young.
However, enhancing your focus doesn't have to be all brain games and crosswords (although, those games are like a HIIT class for your brain2!). The Sherzais say you can actually fold focus into your day-to-day routine: "Focus development is an all-day endeavor," Dean adds.
So let's think: What's an easy focus-building activity you likely perform every day, sometimes even multiple times per day? Oh! Dishwashing.
How dishwashing can lead to better brain health.
See, when you wash dishes, you're completely focused on the task at hand. It's near impossible to multitask (unless, well, you do so with soapy fingers), which is what makes the activity so stellar for brain health: "We say there's no such thing as multitasking; it's doing multiple things badly," says Dean. Your attention becomes compromised as you multitask—and as we noted above, keeping your attention sharp is key for optimizing brain function as you age. So as you get older and your focus becomes more and more affected, multitasking only makes it harder to stay sharp.
That said, it's less about the actual act of dishwashing than it is about paying attention to what's in front of you and focusing on the task from beginning to end. "It's like the Japanese tea ceremony," says Dean, the ritual of preparing and serving matcha tea. "It's not about drinking tea or the pot—it's about the act of going through that in detail, in focus, and in a meditative state."
Or take baking (that sourdough starter still comes in handy!): Similarly, you're paying attention to each step, each precise measurement, which silos your focus and can actually become quite meditative. "[You're] told not to think about anything else—just be with those ingredients and the manipulation of those ingredients into bread," Ayesha explains. "That's a great example of maintaining focus and attending to one thing at a time."
In other words: Yes, dishwashing can help you dial in your focus (and, thus, better your brain), but it's not the only attention-enhancing activity you can try. Say, if washing dishes or bread baking stress you out, discover another meditative experience that works for you: Other common activities include gardening, knitting, coloring, or crafting.
When it comes to optimizing your brain health, focus is crucial to keep cognitive function strong. "Especially in our lives, where everybody is distracted and you're being hit with conversations, thoughts, ideas, items, and advertisements over and over again, it's very easy to lose yourself and lose focus," notes Dean. However, it's relatively easy to bring your attention back on track—sometimes, all it takes is a few dirty dishes and some sudsy water.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.