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How to keep the brain fit as you get older



If you have a certain age, it probably happened to you: go into a room and forget what you came for. You've got the keys to your car wrong. Yet. And even if you try to remember the name of that knowledge in front of you, your mind becomes empty.

Oh no, you think. Is this a sign of Alzheimer's? Am I losing my intelligence?

If you have these concerns, you are not alone. A recent survey by the Alzheimer's Association showed that 60% of people around the world mistakenly believe that Alzheimer's is an unavoidable part of aging, a second concern only for cancer . The good news is that there is more information than ever available these days to ward off mental decline and stay alert in the twilight years.

There is so much research out there, in fact, that it would be difficult to survive everything. This is what makes the new book Ageless brain: think faster, remember more and stay clearer by lowering your brain age so useful Written by the editors of Prevention Journal and Julia VanTine, offers an easy-to-read, practical and solid guide to keeping the brain young while distilling the latest research results on nutrition, physical and mental exercise, stress reduction and more.

The format is easy to read, with boxes, profiles, lists and self-assessment questionnaires. At the beginning, for example, there is a section on "Memory problems: what is normal, what is not." "Not all memory problems bother," the authors report, something readers might find particularly reassuring. There are ways to distinguish normal memory problems related to dementia or Alzheimer's: if you can not remember the details of an event or a conversation a year ago, it's normal; but if you can not remember the details of an event or a conversation last week, it's a reason to check with your doctor.

In another section, publishers make fun of the three main risk factors for brain decline:

  • Old age. (At the age of 85, one third of us will experience cognitive decline).
  • A family history of Alzheimer's.
  • One of a handful of extremely rare inherited genes.

Even if you have these risk factors, the authors report, you will not necessarily develop the disease. Also, there are many preventative steps you can take.

Challenge yourself. A particularly useful idea is to get out of your comfort zone by tackling something new, even if at the beginning you may feel a little confused. This sense of loss actually puts the brain into question, the authors say. "The comfort zone is where the brain turns into mush."

A particularly useful idea is to get out of your comfort zone by tackling something new, even if at the beginning you may feel a little confused.

"Retire in something, not something." Here, publishers offer an interesting observation: "Unfortunately, even if early retirement may seem like heaven, it's hell on the brain, because our work is often one of the most exciting things we do." the researchers studied public employees in Britain 14 years before and after their retirement, they found that retirement presaged a decline in their short-term ability to recall words.

Learn something new every day. This will increase your cognitive reserves. The editors refer to a fascinating study of London taxi drivers, who are all required to pass a test that involves storing a city map of 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks. According to brain scans, drivers who had passed that test had effectively remodeled a key region of their brain, reinforcing cognitive function.

Stay in touch with others. Your brain trains when you interact with other people. In one study, the elderly who had the slightest social connection at the beginning of the experiment experienced twice the memory loss in six years compared to those who had the highest levels of social connection. "Expand your social circle", say the authors. "In short, think of your brain as a puppy – they both need human connection and something to chew."

Find your balance. Studies have shown that people who can not stand on one leg for more than 20 seconds are more likely to have damage to small blood vessels in the brain, such as small bleeds or premolars. If you miss the sign, the book offers exercises that can help with the balance, as well as tips for trying out a class of tai chi. Because? Because a study of practitioners of Tai Chi in the late '60s found that their stability was particularly strong, in the 90th percentile of the American fitness standards.

There is a lot of additional advice hidden in 297 pages. Included are illustrated tips for a strength training workout, recipes for healthy brain meals, and dozens and dozens of suggestions for brain enhancement activities, from joining to a singing class to studying a new language to the Immersion in art. There is a whole section on the physiology of stress, on how it negatively affects the body and mind and how to fight it. The authors offer strategies for getting enough sleep, as well as a rundown of prescription drugs that have been linked to a higher risk of dementia.

The book is full of information so intriguing and worthy, and the research to support it. I walked away with many new useful tips on how to keep my brain sharp. Among the many suggestions is simple: just get physical. A study conducted on women between the ages of 38 and 60 found that exercise reduced the onset of Alzheimer's on average 9.5 years. This is a pretty good topic for me.

Now where did I put my sneakers?

This article was adapted by Greater Good, the online magazine of UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, one of Mindful's partners. View the original article.


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