As we age, one of the scariest thoughts is not about wrinkles or age spots but rather the prospect of losing our ability to think, remember, and learn. That’s why it is of immense importance that you know how to have a healthy brain in old age.
Such degeneration of the brain, however, is not a done deal. Increasing amounts of research indicate that old age does not necessarily result in senility (just think of how many bright 80-year-olds you know) and that many of us possess the power to slow – and even reverse – the loss of mental acuity.
Prevailing wisdom in the Western medical system previously held that we each have a finite number of healthy brain cells that die off over time as the result of physical trauma, substance abuse, or simply old age.
New evidence, however, increasingly supports the idea of neurogenesis, or the ability of the brain to continually create new cells well into our later years.
In addition, doctors now have technology that allows them to scan the brain and observe areas of deterioration and regeneration as well as blood flow and activity patterns. UCLA researchers have found that combining detailed patient information with a brain scan could help doctors predict potential brain degeneration and intervene before it’s too late.
Taking advantage of these new tools, the emergent field of functional medicine focuses on 100 percent-customized prevention, diagnosis, and treatment for every patient. To help prevent healthy brain and body degeneration before it starts, practitioners of functional medicine create a customised healthy diet and supplement regimen based on individual imbalances.
Unfortunately, relentless stress and stimulation, easily accessible processed foods, and lack of time for a fully enriched life point firmly in the direction of brain degeneration. In order to have a healthy brain in old age, current consensus calls for eating a healthy diet (including nutritional supplements), exercising regularly, managing stress, getting enough sleep, being engaged socially, and continuing to learn.
Other fundamentals include limiting or eliminating alcohol, not smoking, and, of course, being smart about protecting one’s head.
Stress and Brain Health
As the first generation to live a 24/7 lifestyle begins to enter its later years, the long-term effects of stress have yet to be fully realized. It is known, however, that the relentless presence of Cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone produced when we experience stress, has a profound effect on the function of the healthy brain. Stress often has a negative impact on sleep, relationships, and eating habits, all of which are important to optimal brain health.
Long recognized as a path to lower stress and better sleep, meditation is one way to address this issue. However, active relaxation – including doing yoga, laughing, making love, dancing, learning, and expressing gratitude – is just as effective and perhaps easier to work into a busy day.
Exercise, while helpful for stress reduction, stands on its own as a contributor to a healthy brain. According to the Mayo Clinic, recent studies show that physically active women experience less mental decline and consistently score better on mental function tests than their sedentary counterparts.
These studies suggest that regular exercise helps preserve the integrity of brain cells and promote brain plasticity (the ability of the brain to adapt and change). Exercise may also improve cerebral blood flow and delivery of oxygen to the brain – critical for neurogenesis.
It’s a straightforward reality: All the things we require to keep our bodies healthy can keep us smarter longer, too.
Eating a diet filled with “brain food” is beneficial to both the body and the mind. Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA help create the basic structure of all our cell membranes-brain included. Both acids are found in wild-caught fish such as mackerel.
Amino acids, created by protein, are essential to the formation of the neurotransmitters and receptors that the brain and body use to communicate with one another, so look for lean sources of protein such as beans, chicken, and fish.
Complex carbohydrates (found in whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and nuts) contribute to the long-term health of the brain as well as its moment-to-moment function through the slow and steady release of fuel.
Fresh organic and wild-harvested food is the best and easiest way to get the nutrients your brain needs.
Supplements are often necessary to ensure you’re receiving the levels of nutrients needed for a healthy brain. Supplements that include EPA and DHA, vitamins B6 and B12, vitamin D, and folic acid are recommended.
We must learn how to have a healthy brain in old age if we want to live a life to its fullest, so take the aforementioned tips seriously and try and live in accordance with them as much as you can.