It may sound cliché, but the truth is if we don’t use our brains, we are more likely to lose them.
The brain thrives on sensory stimulation. It’s designed to absorb new information from its environment and build neural connections based on what it learns from those experiences.
A baby’s mind is like a sponge, constantly absorbing new information from the environment and making new connections. That’s why they are such fast learners.
However, as we grow older our brains tend to become less receptive to learning new information. By the age of 40, genes that are associated with learning and neuroplasicity tend to shut down. And by the time we reach the age of 65 or older, the chemicals in our brain begin to make dramatic changes, such as decreases in serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate, all which are important for healthy brain functioning. The grey matter in our brains also begins to thin.
As a result of these physical changes in the brain, many people experience age-related declines in cognitive ability. In addition, individuals 65 and older have a one in 8 chance of developing age-related dementia, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, which severely inhibits your ability to think rationally, solve problems, learn new things, and form memories.
Fortunately, there are effective ways we can prevent these declines in cognition, learning, and memory – and perhaps even improve them as we get older.
The term “cognitive reserve” refers to one’s ability to maintain cognitive abilities despite an aging brain. Research has found several key factors that are associated with keeping our brains fit into old age. These findings say you should…
Challenge your brain.
Research makes it clear that challenging ourselves is one of the most effective ways to maintain brain fitness. In 2009, a study published in Neurology found that late-life “cognitive stimulating” activities helped maintain cognition and delay the onset of dementia. These “cognitive stimulating” activities included reading, writing, playing games, and solving puzzles (such as crosswords or Sudokus).
In 2011, the World Alzheimer’s Report also discovered that other cognitive stimulating activities such as playing music, cooking, and having lively discussions with others could also improve cognition in those who already have dementia. A study published in Archives of Neurology found that these kinds of activities helped reduce β-amyloid protein, which is the major part of the amyloid plaque in Alzheimer disease.
There are a many number of ways you can challenge your brain, such as:
* Learning a new hobby.
* Reading books.
* Debating others on a hot issue.
* Using brain training programs such as Brain Workshop or Lumosity.
* Being more creative, such as playing music, painting, writing, or cooking.
* Solving puzzles, such as crosswords or Sudokus.
* Play strategy-based video games.
* Learning a new language.
These are just some suggestions on ways to continuously challenge your brain, but obviously there are many other ways too. As a general rule, trying anything new is going to help your brain grow and respond in novel ways.
Next: How to enrich your environment