A certain amount of brain aging should be expected, but it’s only natural to have concerns over the health of your brain’s functioning as you age.
While you should expect changes in your brain activity as the years add up, there’s no need to panic. There are a range of activities and a number of rules to live by that, if adhered to, can help stave off cognitive decline and ensure that you stay mentally fit for years to come.
Rules to Live By
Brain health can be influenced by a number of factors, be it lifestyle choices, quality of medical care, decisions over treatment and medications to avoid. Here are few to keep in mind as you consider how you’re going to go about staying mentally sharp.
Nutritional science has now reached a point where specific diets are designed with brain health in mind. The Longevity diet and the MIND diet are two that have proven to be beneficial for aging populations. For more about science of aging as it relates to food, visit our nutrition section.
Regular physical activity is beneficial throughout life, both for the brain and body. It’s been established for some time that the release of certain hormones during exercise is beneficial for the brain, but in recent years, scientists have also discovered that the increase in specific molecules. One of these is irisin, which is produced during exercises that involve endurance. Irisin is associated with improved cognition and decreased risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
Healthy Cholesterol and Blood Pressure
These two factors often come up when talking about cardiovascular health, but blood pressure has very closely tied to brain health and cholesterol plays a role in the formation amyloid beta plaques, which show a strong correlation to Alzheimer’s Disease. Additionally, exercise helps brain tissue produce more mitochondria, which are vital to cellular energy production.
Loneliness and boredom have severe consequences for brain and emotional health. Studies suggests that older adults are more likely to thrive when they remain socially engaged, and feel a sense of purpose. Research shows that being isolated from others can cause disruptions in sleep, elevated blood pressure, heightened levels in the stress hormone cortisol and damaged immune cells. These factors together can reduce cognitive function.
The brain requires sleep to clean itself of waste and consolidate learning and memory. Disrupted sleep patterns may be a sign of reduced gray matter in the brain and can lead to increased irritability and poor decision making in older adults. Poor sleep is tied to depression and is known to alter brain structure as well.
A precursor to empathy, the desire to know more about the world and people around you ensures a rich life experience and builds healthy relationships. A study from The Synapse Project revealed that “learning new and demanding skills while maintaining an engaged social network are key to staying sharp as we age.”
Anxious people score worse on cognitive function tests than those who aren’t stressed. In recent years, studies have affirmed the importance of maintaining healthy brain structure and connectivity by reducing chronic stress, which lowers cortisol. Chronic stress has been shown to cause structural changes in the brain which may lead to cognitive decline. It also causes an excess of white matter which the brain would typically trim through the process of neural pruning.