May 13, 2020
As we age, our body systems begin to decline; this includes the brain as well. Tasks that were second-nature in the 20s may seem more complicated as one grows older. With age, cognitive functions deteriorate over time and patients may have trouble performing tasks such as recalling names, numbers, and appointments, multitasking, or learning new skills. These issues occur due to various degenerative changes in the brain with aging. However, certain activities and lifestyle characteristics can help slow brain aging and cognitive decline.
There are many things in daily life that you can do to keep your brain healthy and slow its decline with aging. The following practices are backed by research and empirical and experiential data as ways to train your brain:
1. Exercise: An intervention that crops frequently to delay age-related mental decline is exercise. Aerobic and resistance exercise of moderate intensity for a minimum of 30 minutes performed as frequently as possible in a week has been reported to boost brain health in people of ages 50 and above significantly. Physical activity has also been shown to slow brain aging by 10 years. While regular exercise is shown to reverse the signs of brain aging, a study conducted by the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases found that the effect was most apparent in people who danced.
2. Brain training programs: Brain training (also known as cognitive training) broadly refers to programs and mental exercises aimed at improving cognitive abilities. These trainings involve practicing visualization and association techniques, memory training, and application of these skills in real-world scenarios. The main purpose is to enable healthy cognitive aging with exercises targeted to improve memory, reasoning, processing, and problem-solving. Though studies have shown varying results, some reports show encouraging evidence. According to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, some types of cognitive training might slow cognitive decline and cut the risk of developing dementia by 29%.
3. Diet and nutrition: Diet is a key component of maintaining brain health. Research has linked the presence of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the blood with healthy aging of the brain. Multi-coloured fruits and vegetables are overall beneficial, and foods with a high level of a nutrient called lutein in the diet of middle-aged people are shown to be especially beneficial for slowing decline. Research suggests that a diet high in sugar and excessive alcohol intake causes inflammation in the brain, creates deficits in memory and attention, and slows cognitive function.
4. Sociality: Humans are social animals with social tendencies, and being part of a healthy community helps in individual growth. Isolation is considered and promotes poor mental and brain health. Staying socially active is shown to be a marker of low decline in cognition and memory.
5. Stress Management: Besides being the primary cause of physical disorders such as hypertension and diabetes, stress can cause long-lasting mental issues such as anxiety, insomnia, and depression as well. Stress releases the hormone cortisol, and high levels of cortisol in the brain due to chronic stress can disrupt synapse regulation. Chronic stress and anxiety can lead to structural degeneration of the hippocampus, kill brain cells, and even reduce the size of the brain—in particular the prefrontal cortex, the part responsible for memory and learning. To maintain brain health, it is essential to manage stress daily.
6. Sleep: Adequate and restful sleep is necessary for good brain health. An uninterrupted sleep of at least 7 hours is recommended in a dark and quiet place. Sleep plays an important role in the restoration and promotion of attention, memory, and cognitive fitness.
7. Playing an instrument: Pursuing an intellectually stimulating activity such as playing an instrument may help older adults delay age-related cognitive decline and retain listening abilities. Researchers from Baycrest Health Sciences, Toronto, found that learning to play a sound on a musical instrument impacts the brain waves in a way that improves the individual’s listening and hearing skills. The changes in the brain activity demonstrate that the brain rewires itself to compensate for diseases or conditions that might hinder a person’s ability to perform tasks.
Training your brain involves a combination of a healthy lifestyle such as good nutrition, good sleep hygiene, exercise, stress reduction, and activities that are cognitively stimulating such as socializing, playing an instrument, and brain training programs. For information on brain health-related conditions and treatments, book an appointment with our specialists at the Brain and Spine Institute at Sagar Hospitals.