Scientific research on the brain in the past few years has shed new light on what happens in the brain as we age. Instead of inevitably and universally atrophying without there being any way to prevent or reverse the process, the brain actually maintains its ability to create new brain cells and new connections between them. Our brains can remain active, sharp, vital, and creative no matter what our age.
Rather than being passive observers to our brain’s condition and activity, we actually have the opportunity and responsibility to take care of it. Brain vitality is actually a “use it or lose it” characteristic. One study at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine showed that the more stimulating and intellectually challenging
we make our lives, the better our odds are of keeping our aging brains
vital, sharp, and agile.
For example, the book In Full Bloom: A Brain Education Guide for Successful Aging, offers this advice for keeping our brains stimulated and healthy:
- Exercise regularly.
Studies based on the work of Columbia University neurologist Scott Small and Salk Institute neurobiologist Fred Gage suggest that regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, delivers more oxygen-rich blood to the brain. It also increases the presence of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which is vital for producing new brain cells and preventing atrophy. According to Lee and Jones, you should get at least 30 minutes of heart-pumping exercise 3 times a week. You should also do strength training at least twice a week, because muscle development produces more energy for the brain.
- Reduce stress.
Stress is a major cause of illness, thanks to the effects of the hormone cortisol. Too much cortisol can wear down the hippocampus, which plays a role in memory function. Exercises such as yoga and tai chi, as well as brain vitality meditation can help.
- Get plenty of sleep.
Sleep deprivation is the number one cause of fuzzy, disjointed mental function. Studies show that people who get at least eight hours of sleep each night can avoid some age-related brain decline.
- Eat low-fat and healthy.
Glucose spikes and fatty plaque deposits that accompany overeating can damage the brain. A lower-calorie diet promotes better circulation and also controls weight, leading to lower blood pressure. Eating foods containing omega-3 fatty acids such as some cold-water fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, and herring) will also help boost brain vitality according to Elkhonon Goldberg and Alvaro Fernandez in their article, “Ten Important Truths About Aging”.
- Give your brain a workout.
Try to do or learn something new each week. Challenging the brain with novel tasks and activities creates new neural pathways, makes it more versatile, and improves its multitasking ability.