In the 1990s, researchers learned the truth about plasticity – the brain’s ability to repair, reroute and regrow new neurons at any age. Where once brain researchers had focused only on repairing old cells, they now turned their attention to the importance of creating newer, healthier ones as well, and rebuilding the connections between brain cells.
The research made its way to the public relatively quickly – creating a near tidal wave of products that worked (like brain-building games) and many that didn’t (“miracle brain pills”).
Despite the hype, legitimate sources like the Alzheimer’s Association agree that there are four realistic approaches to maintaining a healthy brain as one ages. They include:
1. Mental activity
2. Social activity
3. Physical activity
4. Proper diet
In recent years, media coverage of the brain’s ability to change has lead to sudden sales of crosswords, Sudoku, and other cognitive improvement-related books, magazines, puzzles and electronic games.
“The fact that these neurosynaptic connections can be developed with cognitive skills training means that we can literally transform the process of learning by improving a person’s ability to retrieve information, analyze variables, and apply logic and reasoning,” says Dr. Ken Gibson, author of Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart in Your Child. “For the average person, doing word games at home is a great way to strengthen cognitive skills and maintain the brain. But personal brain training – where there is one brain trainer working with one person—is still the best way to strengthen cognitive skills like memory, attention, processing speed, auditory and visual processing, and logic & reasoning.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, research shows that regular engagement in social activities helps maintain brain vitality. Social activities include emotional support, work, volunteering, travel and participation in clubs.
A study sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts analyzed the impact of professionally conducted cultural programs on adults over 65, and found that opportunities to participate and attend ongoing cultural activities had healthy and encouraging benefits, including:
* better overall health
* fewer visits to their physician
* rate of need for medication decreased
* fewer falls
* vision problems diminished
* a significant decrease on the Geriatric Depression Scale.
Research now shows that even light to moderate aerobic exercise improves oxygen consumption, which helps the brain to function better. In the elderly, aerobic exercise – such as walking, bicycling or yoga – has actually been found to reduce brain cell loss.
We now know that many different types of foods are necessary for optimum mental functioning, including fluids, complex carbohydrates, proteins, beneficial fats, and various vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. In addition, like many body organs, the brain operates best when blood glucose is stable. Lack of concentration and other mental lapses can readily occur when blood glucose levels dip or surge. Eating a balanced diet is one of the best ways to maintain optimum brain health.
Although you may not be able to completely stave off the effects of age-related cognitive decline, incorporating mental, social and physical exercise, as well as a balanced diet, may be your best route to maintaining brain health.