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Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young. —Henry Ford
Losing your mind's function is a frightening thought for many seniors. This can include anything from dementia to the slow mental decline of an underused brain. But your brain doesn't have to wither. All it needs is exercise. As we'll see, the brain needs to be worked out regularly just like your heart and muscles. And the benefits are not just limited to enhanced cognitive abilities.
You'll find a grocery list of other advantages that will keep your clock ticking a little while longer.
Like Moore's Law in technology, our understanding of the brain seems to double every two years. Or at least at seems that way from reading the latest articles on brain studies. We are living longer now than ever, which gives scientists more subjects and more time to analyze the aging brain. And we have 76 million baby boomers concerned about the health of their gray matter.
Here's what we know: That 3-pound organ in your head controls nearly everything in your body. And here are some of the brain's daily duties many of us take for granted:
All simple, right? Yes, with a healthy brain, you don't even think about these tasks. But as we age, the brain does lose some of its sharpness, its quickness, just like older muscles decline over the years.
For some seniors, these tasks become a little more difficult, especially remembering an appointment or multi-tasking. Your brain is like lump of clay, albeit a complex, sophisticated lump of clay. It's malleable. This is called the brain's plasticity. It can grow and change. It can change negatively, losing memory and cognitive function. Or with your help, your brain can prosper. Let's see how.
Yes, all these activities exercise your brain. Reading books and magazines. Playing games like Sudoku and crossword puzzles. Computer activities, even just web surfing. Unlike with passive TV watching, with any of these activities, you are engaging your brain, learning new things, discovering, stretching. Each of these things requires some level of effort.
An American Academy of Neurology study focused on two groups of people between the ages of 70 and 89. One group had “diagnosed memory loss; the other group had no memory loss. The study found that:
A brisk walk or jog certainly makes you feel more alert and focused. But does physical activity really benefit your brain? Yes, say researchers. A University of South Carolina study found that a physically exercised brain showed increases of mitochondrial development, meaning brain cells become revitalized. This translates to sharpened thinking and reduced mental fatigue. Granted, the study was performed on mice, not humans. But the study's senior author, Professor Mark Davis, says that this process is similar to what occurs in human and animal muscles. A more representative study was performed on monkeys by researchers at the Pitt School of Medicine. It found that monkeys who exercised regularly performed faster on tests of “cognitive function and had greater blood volume in the brain's motor cortex than their sedentary counterparts.”
Here are just some of the additional benefits of regular exercise:
So much to gain but eating right; so much to lose. And vice versa if you're talking literally. One thing you can gain by eating the right foods is lowering your risk for dementia disease, such as Alzheimer's. A study in Neurology found that eating green leafy vegetables slows down the rate of cognitive decline in those 65 and older. People who “ate at least 2.8 servings a day saw their rate of cognitive change slow by roughly 40%,” says a Sciencedaily.com article on the study. Think spinach, collard greens, Swiss chard, and kale. Finland's University of Kuopio's study of people 65 and older showed that those who ate broiled or baked tuna or other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids had a 26% lower risk for developing dementia that those who did not eat fish regularly. Other foods high in omega-3 are Atlantic salmon, canned white tuna, Pacific herring, halibut, walnuts, kiwi, soybeans, flaxseed oil, and pumpkin seeds. To make sure you're getting omega-3, take a supplement.
You can boost your aging brain just by engaging in certain daily activities along with exercising regularly and adding a few items to your diet. For some, these changes may require forming new healthy habits. But if you are serious about your brain and your body, give them a shot.
See Aging Well for additional tips on living better and living longer.
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