Most people become increasingly focused on health as they age. The body changes as we get older and that feeling of agility, vibrancy, and invincibility we felt in our 25-year-old selves starts to wane. It’s no secret that maintaining a healthy weight, doing some exercise, eating well and generally remaining active helps us stay healthy for longer, however, a lot of people are unsure how to keep their brain healthy and strong.
The brain is like any other part of the body, it needs to be used and stimulated in order to keep functioning optimally. And like every other part of the body, as you age you will find yourself in a constant battle trying to maintain and improve your body, and despite your best efforts, muscles begin to weaken and shrink, wrinkles begin to show, and hair begins to gray.
According to research conducted by Simon Fraser University in Canada, brain health starts to decline at age 24. The study published in PLOS One journal found that cognitive performance and speed start declining at a rate of 15% for every 15 years after age 24. This may all seem a bit bleak, however, this isn’t to say beyond 24 you should roll over and allow your brain to decay. By understanding the science behind brain health, you can take proactive steps to keep your brain fit as you get older, taking control of your aging.
Let us take a look at some simple ways that can help boost brain function and performance:
1. Physical Exercise
At this point, you might be thinking “what doesn’t exercise cure?” – it seems to pop up in anything to do with health. While this may be true, the science backs it up. Exercise improves your cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure and aiding more efficient transport of oxygen to the body’s cells. Exercising regularly helps bring oxygen-rich blood to the brain.
Exercise has also been shown to spur the growth of new nerve cells and protect existing neurons. The other benefits of exercise also come into play here, for example, the reduction of stress, the lowering of cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and the many other positive changes in the body that result from regular exercise all lead to a healthier brain.
2. Mental Stimulation
Most people know that having a lack of stimulation is very bad for the brain. An example of this is in solitary confinement situations where people are kept without any mental or physical stimulation and often suffer irreparable damage as a result. However, a lot of people don’t realize that they should be actively stimulating their brain beyond the ordinary stimulation they get from everyday activities.
Activities like solving puzzles, mental maths, reading and activities that involve dexterity as well as mental input such as sketching and painting help keep your mind sharp. They do this by encouraging new connections between nerve cells in the brain, thus improving brain plasticity.
3. Diet and Nutrition
Research shows that following a Mediterranean style diet can reduce the risk of cognitive impairment conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. When it comes to dementia and Alzheimer’s, there is still some learning to be done in the scientific community as it is still not clear exactly what causes the disease and how it operates, however, plenty of research is being conducted in the field, and a link has been found between diet and neurodegenerative diseases.
The Mediterranean diet consists primarily of plant-based foods, whole grains, and lean meats such as fish and poultry. There is also a lack of processed sugars and meats in the diet as well as a lack of red meat. This is a quick reference list of foods to eat and ones to avoid.
4. Avoiding Tobacco and Drinking Alcohol in Moderation
Smoking tobacco is a risky behavior and the risk becomes greater as we age. Smoking has been linked to high blood pressure and reduced efficiency of the heart. Smokers are also at higher risk of brain bleeds, damage and shrinkage as they get older.
Similarly, excessive drinking is a factor in developing dementia, as well as damaging brain cells. Most people have their vices and alcohol is a popular vice in the western world. Cutting alcohol altogether may sound unrealistic for some people, however, reducing alcohol intake could have significant benefits for your brain and overall health. The threshold for safe consumption of alcohol varies from country to country and from person to person, so check with your doctor as to what would be a reasonable amount to consume whilst still maintaining good mental health and function.