When we reach our late-30s, we start to experience the first signs of ageing – a few wrinkles, sags and grey hairs. Through shifting hormones in our 50s to arthritis in our 60s, by the time we reach our 70s or 80s, we may have a diminished memory function and a lack of cellular renewal as a result of weakened neural function and DNA replication.
These signs of ageing could be avoided, however. Professor Paul Taylor of the University of San Francisco shares five tactics to boost the brain so we can skip vitality along the path of healthy longevity.
Train the brain
Neural pathways change permanently in response to training. Cardiovascular strength training (without machines) and complex movements, particularly those that cross the midline, are paramount in training the brain, Taylor says. The benefits of exercise to the brain are numerous. An increase in blood flow – and therefore oxygen and nutrition to the brain – provides sustenance to the brain cells. Additionally, exercise stimulates a whole family of growth factors in the brain which support capillary networks and assist with the development of memory and learning. An older person can improve their brain function by 30% if they walk just 600 metres a day, Taylor asserts. However, younger people need to aspire towards intense exercise to really enhance brain function.
The right stuff to feed the brain essentially follows the traditional Mediterranean diet: rich in vegetables, fish and whole grains, and low in meat and sugar. In general, choose foods with a low-HI index and go natural when possible. Olive oil should be used with abandon, as it helps to resolve inflammation, a foundation stone of most, if not all, chronic diseases. Eat red meat once a month and eat more fish to increase your intake of anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids. See Best For Brain.
Protect the brain
To prevent Alzheimer’s and age-related dementia, protect your brain from toxins and damage. There are several ways to do this:
- Stop smoking: the chemicals in tobacco and cigarettes are detrimental to brain function and damaging to the cardiovascular system.
- Sleep: get at least seven hours of sleep every night. Any less and the brain will function on low mode all day. Growth hormone is released during sleep which supports growth and repair.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners: especially those containing aspartame, as it increases the excitatory glutamate produced by the brain.
Manage the brain
Thought and emotions need to be well-managed, Taylor says. Suppressed emotions and stress, when not managed or resolved, can develop into chronic illness. Talking therapies help to decrease the intensity of emotions and often allow us to manage them better. Reappraise and reflect on life. Learn to look for the silver lining of any situation, and grow and learn from everyday encounters and challenges.
Change the brain
The responsibility of optimising brain function rests with the individual. “No one will save you. No pill will save you. You have to do it for yourself”, Taylor says. It’s important to break the negative cycles and habits that you have created or accepted. It’s possible to rewire the ‘plastic’ brain and create more positive associations and patterns. By looking after our bodies and being dedicated to our training regimes, this rewiring becomes possible and posivitely inspiring. “you are the expert in you,” says Taylor.