Like any high-performance machine, the brain needs top quality fuel. That’s especially the case as we age and become more susceptible to cognitive decline and neurodegenerative conditions.
The aging process typically begins to impact the brain before 40, when cognitive abilities such as processing speed and memory start to decline. That said, there are numerous things people can do to slow aging of the brain and keep it in tip-top shape for years afterwards.
Here are five things you can do in your daily life to keep your brain strong and healthy no matter how old you are. It’s always wise to talk to your doctor, of course, before making any major changes to your diet and lifestyle.
Make aerobic activities a regular part of your fitness regimen
Need more reason to hit the gym? How about a bigger brain? Literally. A study finds that aerobic exercise increases brain size and helps improve memory and maintain good brain health as we age. As we age, the brain shrinks and slowly loses its functionality.
Neuroscientists estimate that the brain shrinks by about five percent per decade after the age of 40.
When a person exercises they produce a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which may help to prevent age-related decline by reducing the deterioration of the brain. The study shows that rather than actually increasing brain size, the main “brain benefits” are due to aerobic exercise slowing down brain deterioration. In other words, exercise can be seen as a maintenance program for the brain.
Break out the yoga mat — it may be just as beneficial for brain health as aerobics
Scientists say that yoga strengthens many of the same brain networks as aerobic exercise.
For the research, scientists reviewed 11 previous studies of yoga practices. Five of these involved non-practitioners training via one yoga session a week for 10-24 weeks. In the other six studies, researchers analyzed brain scans of regular yoga practitioners and people who don’t practice to identify differences in their scans.
Findings of the review identified four brain regions and several brain networks that benefit from yoga practice. First, the hippocampus is shown to grow larger with yoga practice. Two brain structures that contribute to emotional regulation, the amygdala and the cingulate cortex, are also shown to benefit from yoga exercise. Third, the prefrontal cortex is also shown to be bigger in the brains of people who regularly practice yoga. Lastly, the brain’s “default mode network” has been shown to function more efficiently as a result of the practice.
The results suggest that yoga can mitigate the onset of neurodegenerative diseases. It can also lead to improved emotional regulation, and improves planning, decision-making, multitasking, memory, and even self-reflection abilities.
Don’t avoid household chores, they can actually give you a bigger brain!
Scientists in Toronto say that older adults who perform household chores have larger brains — a key measure of good cognitive health.
The study examined 66 mentally healthy older adults. Each participant took part in three assessments, a health evaluation, structural brain imaging, and a cognitive test. Results show that older people who spend more time doing chores have greater brain volume, regardless of how much they exercise. These chores ranged from cleaning, to cooking, to going outside and working in the yard.
Although most people probably aren’t fond of doing chores, findings show they’re likely helping the brain in several ways. Chores also have a similar effect as low-intensity aerobic exercise — which benefits the heart and blood vessels. Moreover, chores also push the mind to plan and organize, which promotes the formation of new neural connections over time.
READ MORE: Doing household chores can actually give you a bigger brain
Take some time for a daily Wordle, crossword puzzle, sudoku and other online brain games
It may not be so easy in our elder years to get around like we used to, but that doesn’t mean our brains have to slow down too. One study finds that people in their 70s can multitask cognitively just as well as younger adults their 20s with the help of online brain-training exercises.
The study partnered with Lumosity, an online gaming platform known for its brain-boosting game choices designed to improve memory and focus. They plucked 1,000 random samples of player performance from the millions of adults who had played the game between 2012 and 2017. Then, assigning participants to one of two categories: players between the ages of 21 and 80 who had finished fewer than 60 training sessions, and players between the ages of 71 and 80 who had accomplished at least 1,000 sessions.
Results show that people in the upper age ranges who completed specific training tasks were able to beef up their brain’s ability to switch between tasks in the game at a level similar to untrained 20- and 30-year-olds. Moreover, the study determined that the slight edge the older players had was quickly diminished once younger players in their 20s completed 10 additional practice sessions. This points to the need for older adults to keep practicing mental gymnastics to maintain the benefits.
READ MORE: Online Brain-Training Games Can Be Cognitive Fountains Of Youth For Seniors
Make plans with your friends and family more often to keep a healthy brain
Doctors regularly tell seniors to stay active because it’s good for their bodies and overall health. One study finds that getting out and being around other people is also good for your brain’s fitness too, particularly in old age.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health say more social engagement leads to having more gray matter in regions of the brain tied to dementia.
Gray matter is the darker tissue in the brain and spinal cord which is mainly composed of nerves cells. It plays a vital role in controlling muscular and sensory function throughout the body. Gray matter, along with white matter, also plays a role in higher learning, memory, and thought. Study authors say having more of this important material build up can help fight diseases which kill off brain cells.
Their study reveals that more social engagement shows a link to better microstructural integrity of the brain’s gray matter. Once these brain cells die off in large amounts, dementia typically sets in. The study points out that a direct cause for this brain building needs to be found, but authors sas the results prove that public health officials need to focus on keeping seniors active and connected.
To recap, here are five things you can do to keep a strong brain into old age:
- Add more aerobic activity to your fitness regimen
- Try doing yoga regularly
- Embrace your household chores
- Play online brain-bending games
- Socialize regularly with others
Of course, any radical changes to your current lifestyle, including dietary and fitness regimens, should first be discussed with your doctor. If you have any additional suggestions for optimal brain health, please leave them in the comments below!