From meditation to nutrition, these science-backed strategies keep your brain healthy as you age.
There’s a reason the brain is nicknamed “the universe of three books.” From producing dreams to storing memories, there’s so much this fascinating and infinitely complex organ can do – and humans are uncovering new information about it every year.
Fortunately, we live in a time when tremendous progress is taking place in the fields of neurobiology and medicine – in particular, with scientists racing against time (literally) to better understand, treat and hopefully one day prevent neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS. And with all of this academic study — and our newly discovered insights into what the brain needs to function, from sleep quality to the link between exercise and cognitive health — these researchers have uncovered a ton of invaluable learnings that we can put to use. practical and daily use.
In other words, knowing how to take care of your brain and stay cognitively sharp as you age has never been easier.
In fact, recent studies have suggested a startling idea: by adopting radically healthy lifestyles, people could not only live long and healthy lives, but even reverse detrimental health conditions that we previously thought were irreversible.
This got us thinking… Which lifestyle habits are most important when it comes to brain health? We’re not talking about snake oil solutions (hello, Alex Jones’ $600 vitamins), but proven strategies for staying cognitively sharp for as long as possible. We reached out to some of the top experts in the brain health field to find out what they recommend to keep your mind nimble over decades. Here’s what they had to say about how to protect and improve your brain function as you age.
Prioritize hobbies that allow your brain to learn and strategize
“A great way to keep your brain healthy is to regularly create new learning experiences and cognitive challenges,” says Jessica ZK Caldwell, director of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention Center at the Cleveland Clinic. In particular, Dr. Caldwell suggests “hobbies and games that involve memory, problem solving and strategizing – like chess”.
Here’s why these games are so good for you: Continuing to learn and take on new mental challenges actually trains your brain to work at its peak capacity.
“When you learn, your brain creates new connections between brain cells,” says Dr. Caldwell. “We don’t ‘keep’ or remember everything we learn, but the more you engage in a practice, the more your brain will cement these new connections and the more it will retain these memories permanently.”
If chess or sudoku isn’t your game, don’t worry – board games and math equations aren’t the only way to keep your brain busy.
“Two great examples of mental activities to keep your brain sharp in the face of challenges are learning a language and learning an instrument,” suggests Dr. Caldwell. “Exercise is also great for keeping our brains sharp. It directly supports regions of the brain that make new memories. Interestingly, if you can think and exercise at the same time – like practicing speech while walking – you might get even more brain stimulation.
Another way to approach this is to take an activity you already do (like the Sunday crossword or your daily Wordle) and time yourself. Better yet – don’t just time yourself, but too try to maintain a conversation with your partner or a friend while you do this.
“Accelerated tasks that require multitasking have been associated with a greater likelihood of maintaining activities of daily living,” says Marilyn Albert, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins professor of neurology and director of the Division of Cognitive Neuroscience.
That said, you shouldn’t feel obligated to Obligate anything. This kind of process only works if you do it frequently, Albert notes, so “the most important thing is to find an activity that you enjoy doing, so you keep doing it.”
Take a Holistic Approach to Lifestyle with the SHIELD Method
A great way to look at improving your lifestyle from a bird’s eye view is to use the SHIELD Method, created by Rudolph Tanzi, Ph.D., author, Harvard neurology professor and director of the Genome Project of Alzheimer’s. Tanzi tells us that strategy encapsulates much of the work he’s shared in his three best-selling books on the brain. Here is what the acronym stands for:
Iinteraction with others
Learn new things
Diet (Specifically, Dr. Tanzi suggests focusing on plant-rich meals.)
By keeping an acronym like SHIELD in your back pocket, you can ensure that you take a holistic approach to your lifestyle, checking every angle from time to time, rather than just doubling down on just one of the six relevant and ignoring factors. the rest.
“These lifestyle changes can help at any time,” notes Dr. Tanzi, “but are much more for prevention than treatment.”
In other words: you should aim to make consistent, healthy lifestyle choices as soon as possible. As for what these strategies have in common, he explains, “they all aim to reduce inflammation in the brain.”
Enter into a daily meditation practice
The benefits of meditation are celebrated in both Western and Eastern medicinal fields, and it turns out that this age-old practice may just be the key to preventing memory loss. In his book Super BrainDr. Tanzi notes that meditation can be an essential practice in anti-aging strategies, thanks to a little thing called telomeres.
Telomeres are chemical structures that exist at the end of each chromosome. Dr. Tanzi describes them as acting “like the period at the end of a sentence – [they] close the chromosome’s DNA and help keep it intact. As you age, telomeres tend to fray and shorten, which prevents your cells from dividing properly. If telomeres become too short, you can begin to lose parts of your genetic code that allow your mind and body to function properly.
This is where meditation comes in. A recent study from the University of California, Davis and UC San Francisco proved that meditation can lead to an increase in the enzyme that keeps telomeres strong and replenished over time.
The study authors were quick to note that meditation only might not be able to permanently protect telomeres from atrophy, but rather that the “sum total” of effects at any given meditation retreat also contributed to the effect. This includes (you guessed it) proper sleeping conditions, reduced stress for participants, and a solid diet.
When in doubt, treat your brain the same way you treat your heart
The brain and the heart could be two very different organs, but scientists are increasingly of the opinion that their health is closely linked. Studies show that many of the same risk factors for heart disease (like diabetes and high blood pressure) are also risk factors for brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
The connection between brain and heart health can be staggering in some ways. For example: about 80% of people with Alzheimer’s disease too have cardiovascular disease.
When it comes to diet in particular, you should feel comfortable knowing this one truth: there’s nothing you need to do for your brain that isn’t also good for your other vital organs. Your heart, brain and other essential components of our bodies all benefit from the same types of diets – and although the most recommended diet alternates, depending on the doctor you speak with, they all seem to share the same recommendations for reducing fat. fats. and carbohydrates and favoring plant-rich meals.
“The overall conclusion is that diets that are good for heart health are good for brain health,” notes Dr. Albert. “Any diet that keeps your blood pressure and cholesterol low and reduces your weight is good for everything blood vessels throughout your body, including your brain.
Of course, each person’s nutritional needs are different, so it can be productive to meet with a doctor or nutritionist to determine which specific diet is best for you.
In the years to come, scientists will continue to study the connections between the brain and the heart, but in the meantime, we can all benefit from the simple rule of thumb that what’s good for one is good for another. . In short, all those great lifestyle choices you make – exercising regularly, boosting your mind, eating healthy, avoiding tobacco – will benefit both of these vital organs.
So the next time you go for a long walk or set up a chess board with a friend, take a moment to congratulate yourself and remember that your body’s major machinery will thank you.
Our Inside Your Mind series returns on Saturday November 19 with a fascinating report on how your sex life affects your brain health. If you missed our first episode on how the brain changes with age, now is the perfect time to catch up..
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