Healthy Brain and Aging
No matter what our current age, we all want to have a healthy body and a healthy mind as we get older. There is not much pleasure in living a long life if our final years are spent in pain and if we lose our ability to think and remember. As much as we dread suffering physical pain and illness in old age, many of us fear even more the prospect of losing our mental capacities.
We know that some people are able to live into their eighth and ninth decades still mentally sharp and physically spry. What are our chances of staying mentally alert and physically active in old age? Is it all a matter of random luck? Is losing our mental powers as we age inevitable? The good news is that statistically the odds are on your side. Most people are able to keep their cognitive faculties as they age unless they develop Alzheimers disease, heart disease, or diabetes.
As long as the brain itself remains healthy, most older people can maintain their ability to think and remember, although processing may take longer than it used to. Seniors are actually able to outperform much younger people in certain kinds of mental skills. If youve ever heard that the brain shrinks as we grow older, its not just a myth. Its literally true. Brain cells die steadily throughout life without being replaced, and the brain loses mass as we age. It appears that neurons themselves actually shrink, and our unused brain circuit pathways are trimmed back in favor of creating super highways to accommodate the type of thinking our brain does most.
The good news for all of us is that although we may lose millions of neurons and synapses each year, this does not necessarily lead to diminishment of our overall thinking capacity unless the loss is concentrated in certain areas of the brain, such as the hippocampus or critical parts of the neocortex. Scientists have discovered that our ability to think and remember is preserved in spite of brain cell death, as long as the brain is able to create new connections by growing more dendrites and producing neurotransmitters. One way to keep producing new dendrites and new connections is to keep using your brain--keep on learning new skills and develop new interests throughout your life. If you treasure your brain, do yourself a favor and keep using it!
Maintaining an active mind in old age is not entirely a matter of luck. Scientists who study aging and the brain have discovered that there are many things you can do to help safeguard your brain function. Because your brain is flesh and blood, the strategies that help keep your body healthy will also benefit your brain. Make it a priority to eat well, exercise regularly, and get sufficient sleep. Your brain, as well as the rest of your body will benefit. In addition, this strategy will improve your mood and outlook.
Learn more about which fats are good and which fats are bad, and then increase your intake of good fats, and decrease your intake of bad fats. Most North Americans eat far too much of the bad fats--those that are saturated or hydrogenated, and they do not eat enough of the good fats their body needs, particularly the Omega-3s found in foods such as salmon and flax seed. Include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, especially those that are brightly colored such as tomatoes, spinach, and berries. These foods are high in antioxidants, which help protect your brain cells from free radical damage. Take a good quality vitamin and mineral supplement daily. Be sure to include at least 500 mg of Vitamin C, 400 IU of Vitamin E, 400 mcg. of Folic acid, and a well balanced Vitamin B complex.
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