Until recently, scientists believed the brain was incapable of change. If you damaged your brain from drugs, alcohol or even a car accident, there was little hope for improvement. For those with age-related cognitive decline, the prognosis was even worse: No hope for improvement.
But in the 1990s, researchers learned the truth about plasticity – the brain’s ability to birth new neurons at any age. Where once brain researchers had focused on repairing old cells, they now turned to the importance of creating newer, healthier ones. There are four realistic approaches to maintaining a healthy brain as you age: mental activity, social activity, physical activity and a proper diet.
In recent years, media coverage of the brain’s ability to change has led to sudden sales of crosswords, Sudoku puzzles and other cognitive improvement-related books, magazines, and electronic games. Cognitive skills can be improved both at home (with brain games) and in private centers (like brain-training facilities).
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, research shows that regular engagement in social activities – like emotional support, work, volunteering, travel and participation in clubs – helps maintain brain vitality. Maintain your friends, relationships and activities and you’ll maintain your brain health. Ask a friend or family member to join you on a walk or in an exercise class, which improves oxygen consumption and leads to better brain function, and you’ll be adding the benefit of social interaction to keeping physically active.
Although you may not be able to completely stop age-related cognitive decline, incorporating mental, social and physical exercise, as well as a balanced diet, may be your best route to maintaining brain health.