How Our Brains Age
The aging process is usually thought of as being a gradual decline from youth into old age. But current research is demonstrating that it’s more like the ups and downs of a rollercoaster, that there are many ways to influence our health over our lifespans in order to slow the rate at which we’re aging and to recover from illness.
This is especially true about brain health. Cognitive decline is the trendy terminology that encompasses a variety of symptoms such as lapses in memory, difficulty solving problems, and a loss of balance and coordination. This could begin to happen as early as our twenties and thirties and it’s caused by physical factors such as genetics, poor nutrition, or drug use, and emotional factors like anxiety or depression.
As our brains naturally age, neurons become less effective and structures within the brain shrink, a process that decreases the volume of the brain slightly over time. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to create new neural pathways that have the ability to bypass older, possibly damaged ones. As we learn new skills using various parts of our brains, tasks become easier the more we practice as these newer pathways become stronger.
A lifestyle incorporating frequent physical exercise, continual learning, and regular cognitive stimulation is likely to be the most effective means for preserving, and possibly enhancing, cognitive function at any age (www.lifextension.com)
The Alzheimer’s Association advises that the commonsense lifestyle habits that keep our hearts healthy apply to our brains as well. Moderate exercise, a low-cholesterol diet rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, and minimizing alcohol and tobacco use are recommended ways to avoid a decline that could lead to a diminished quality of life or eventually dementia. Playing strategic games, learning a language, or socializing regularly are ways to build and strengthen new neural pathways that will help you stay focused and healthy well into old age.