We all know that as we age, our bodies begin to change. Energy levels fluctuate, and staying in shape requires a little extra effort. The same is true for our brains. Some parts of brains, such as the hippocampus (the part of your brain that is key to memory and learning), shrink as we age, and neurons don’t always fire as fast as they did before. Starting in middle age, you may start to notice effects of some of these changes. The word you want is on the tip of your tongue. It seems like you spend a lot of time hunting for your car keys. You need a calculator now to figure out how to split the bill at the restaurant. Your brain just feels sluggish.
While all of this is part of the normal aging process, there are ways to stem the tide of change.
Think of the brain as a muscle. Like any muscle, to keep it fit and in shape, it needs to be used and exercised. Mental exercises like crosswords, number puzzles, or even games such as chess, can help keep the brain limber. Such activities help individual cells remain active and encourage communication among them. Learning new skills can also help keep your brain sharp as it requires high levels of cognitive function to figure out what to do, and it can also enhance memory. So, if you’ve thought about learning a new language or taking up a musical instrument, it could be fun and good for your brain!
Your brain, along with your body, also benefits from a good workout. Increasing your heart rate sends more oxygen to the brain, which helps it, literally, become more flexible. The increased oxygen stimulates new connections between cells in different parts of the brain. This increased plasticity means your brain changes and adapts more easily to new experiences and environments. Some studies also show that exercise helps maintain brain volume, an important factor in cognitive function.
Keeping your brain healthy and in good shape relies on a variety of things, including social connections. Doing new activities or exercising with friends exposes you to new ideas, another important factor in brain health. Research shows that those with strong social connections to friends or family tend to have slower cognitive decline. New ideas and new environments with new people, or even old friends, keeps your brain limber longer.
Staying healthy encompasses your whole body, not just the muscles in your arms or legs. Keep your brain healthy and protected, too, with blackcurrants.