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Keep your brain sharp and young as you age  

You may be chronologically 80, but you can be as sharp as a 50-year-old if you adopt these practicescover story 1 28

Do you often forget where you have kept your keys or glasses? In the middle of a sentence, do you struggle to figure out what you were going to say? Is it getting difficult to remember names and faces? While such instances could happen at any age, they do increase as you get older.

Interestingly, our chronological and biological age may not match. For instance, there are 80-year-olds who function like they were in their 50s or 60s. Can we slow and even reverse cognitive decline that comes with age? Yes. The good news from new research is that neurons or nerve cells continue to form even when you are in your 90s! Follow the 15 suggestions outlined below to protect your brain and keep it young.

Be physically active: Exercise promotes the growth of neurons and increases the connections between them. Aerobic exercise also boosts oxygen-rich blood supply to the brain. Make it a point to spend time outdoors as this gives your brain a rest, after which it will focus better.

Challenge your mind: Crossword puzzles, sudoku, chess, and even video games provide mental exercise. Read, write, attend a lecture or go for a play, enrol in courses – all these give you intellectual stimulation which staves off cognitive decline.

Feed your brain: Leafy greens contain a pigment lutein which is responsible for improving memory. Berries contain antioxidants that help preserve brain function. Eating walnuts regularly is linked to quickness in thinking and better memory. Dark chocolate is beneficial as the flavanols in cocoa beans help improve memory and cognitive function.

On the flip side, avoid processed foods as excessive consumption of these lead to a decrease in brain tissue, and may contribute to dementia.

Control your weight:  One more hazard of obesity – higher BMI (body mass index) is linked to poor brain health. So, keep your weight in check.

Focus on health parameters: Keep blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol levels in check. High levels could impede blood flow to the brain and lead to neurodegenerative diseases.

Ensure you get sufficient sleep: Deep restorative sleep helps preserve memory and alertness. During sleep the brain gets rid of toxins called beta-amyloids that can lead to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Manage stress well: Chronically high levels of stress can cause trouble with learning and memory. One way to protect your brain is to have a good laugh.

Have a healthy social life: Social connections strengthen the connections between neurons.  Also, giving and receiving emotional support lead to the production of BDNF, a molecule that’s critical for brain cell repair and the creation of new connections. Join a book club or hobby class, do volunteer work, and make time to meet friends and family members.


Grahak Sathi spoke to Dr Preeti Singh, a neurologist practising at Hosmat Hospital, Bengaluru. This is what she had to say on keeping the brain young:

You can’t do much about the genetic factors that cause cognitive decline. However, on the physical front – you can keep diabetes under control and maintain an ideal weight to ward off memory loss or dementia. Keeping mentally active is vital. The maxim (referring to the brain) is: “Use it or lose it.” Cognitive decline can set in even in the 40s – that’s when the brain starts changing.  Learning new things and having a good social circle help the neurons develop new connections (the process is called ‘arborisation’) and prevent cognitive decline.

As for diet, it is believed (though not scientifically proven) that using coconut oil in cooking prevents cognitive decline. Fatty fish contain omega 3 fatty acids which protect the brain. Among fresh fruits, pomegranates are particularly beneficial.

Learn something new: Learn a new skill like painting or playing an instrument. It will greatly improve your brain’s recall and processing speed. Even a change in routine can improve your brain’s capacity to learn and retain new information.

Try meditation: Meditation can improve focus, memory, word selection and aid switching from one thought to another. This may be because meditation gives you a break from concrete thinking.

Quit smoking and limit alcohol intake: Stop smoking as it is linked to mental decline and dementia. Light to moderate alcohol consumption increases your brain’s ability to get rid of toxins, but high alcohol intake impairs this ability.

Protect your head: Falls which result in head injuries can increase the risk of cognitive impairment.

Take care of your mental health: Negative emotions are linked to the development of dementia and cognitive decline in old age. Depression can make thinking, focusing and decision making tough.

Avoid multitasking: Bombarding your brain with information from several directions makes it harder for you to focus and remember things. Give one activity your full attention before moving on to the next.

Develop the right attitude: Think positive, especially about ageing. Believe in yourself.  Practice gratitude – this will make you see your life in a positive light and rewire your brain.


Myths and facts about the ageing brain

The book Ageless Brain: Think Faster, Remembcover story 2 29er More, and Stay Sharper by Lowering Your Brain Age, published in June 2018, busts some myths related to ageing of the brain.

Myth: As we age, we may think that memory is the most important aspect of a sharp, healthy brain.

Fact: Apart from a keen memory, good cognitive health also includes the ability to solve problems, make decisions, and pay focused attention.

Myth: Alzheimer’s is at the root of all age-related memory problems.

Fact: While Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of memory problems, Parkinson’s disease, strokes, diabetes, thyroid disease, vitamin deficiencies, and some medications, can also affect memory.

Myth: Age-related changes in thinking and memory aren’t normal.

Fact: Cognitive aging occurs in everyone. What’s not normal is dementia, characterised by declines in cognitive abilities that affect the ability to perform day-to-day tasks.

Myth: Only children’s brains produce new brain cells.

Fact: The adult brain continually generates new nerve cells. The process is called neurogenesis. One of the most active areas of neurogenesis in the brain, the hippocampus, plays a key role in memory and learning.

So, it’s never too late to protect your brain from age-related decline. Start adopting the healthy practices described in this article today!

Sources: www.rd.com, www.webmd.com, www.health.harvard.edu, www.amazon.com

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