Your brain was very adaptable when you were young, but to keep it this way, you need to train your brain to learn new things. Your brain now operates on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis. The degree to which your brain continues to develop, or wither away, is largely based on how much you train it like a muscle.
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young,”
Try the following ten things to keep your brain young and healthy:
Learn a new language
Learning new languages is arguably at the top of the pile in terms of long-term cognitive benefits. People who are bilingual tend to have more flexible brains, can be better at directing their attention and are less likely to suffer with symptoms of dementia. Have a look at Duolingo, Busuu or Livemocha (language acquisition apps) to learn or develop a language.
Learn to play a musical instrument
If you’ve ever wanted to learn a musical instrument, start now! Researchers have found musicians to have increased grey matter volume in their motor, auditory, and visual-spatial brain regions, and playing musical instruments has been associated with improved mental flexibility, vocabulary, and non-verbal reasoning.
Learn to juggle
Juggling can help reduce stress and anxiety, and even improves your brain connectivity and coordination. Buy some juggling balls and you’ll be able to teach yourself.
Practise memory techniques
You can strengthen your memory directly by practising challenging memory techniques such as the Roman Room, or Memory Palace techniques.
One of the best forms of brain training there is, meditation strengthens your attention like a muscle. Researchers from the Liverpool’s John Moores University found that people who practised meditation performed significantly better on all measures of attention.
The five strategies above all acknowledge the importance of challenging your brain – how your brain is like a muscle and it needs ‘resistance training’ (especially in the form of learning) to keep in shape it needs. The following five strategies reflect the other important ways you need to take care of your brain:
Keep physically active
In order to keep our brain young you also need to provide it with the proteins it needs to change and adapt. As you work out, your brain increases the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is a protein that plays a significant role in the process of neurogenesis, the formation of new brain cells, and is an important regulator of neuroplasticity, the mechanisms underlying learning. This is why exercise is known to help prevent dementia and is non negotiable the it comes to keeping your brain young and adaptable.
Eat a Mediterranean diet
Abundant research finds that a Mediterranean diet is best for brain health over the along term. The Mediterranean diet varies by region, but it is generally accepted to be high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually also includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods.
It is also important to monitor your blood sugar, as diabetes is an important risk factor for dementia, keep your cholesterol low, as high levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol are associated with an increased the risk of dementia, and finally watch your alcohol consummation as excessive drinking is a major risk factor for dementia.
Sleep at least 7 hours a night
I’m sure you’re aware of how important sleep is for short term mental performance. It is also critical to keeping your brain healthy over the longer term. As you sleep, your glymphatic system (your nervous system’s waste disposal system) flushes out harmful toxins, or plaques. If you don’t get enough sleep, you risk a progressive build up of plaque and this can increase risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Get your sleep!
Make time to relax
Make sure you continue to prioritise your relaxation and recovery. Modern day stress can be harmful to your brain and chronic stress has been linked to increased risks of dementia. So however you relax, whether it’s reading books, or going for long walks, understand that it’s not only important for your physical health and well-being, it is also a critical component of keeping your brain young, fit and healthy.
Keep socially active
Finally, and as important as anything else – stay social. Your brain is naturally social and it needs social stimulation to stay sharp. Strong social ties have also been associated with lower blood pressure and longer life expectancy. However busy you may feel, prioritising quality time with your friends should also remain a top priority.
Your brain is like a muscle. Challenge it with novelty, unfamiliarity, and learning new things. Your brain also needs taking care of, so remember your exercise, diet and sleep. Finally, remember the importance of your friendships. These stratgeis will help you keep your brain younger for longer, and you will enjoy sustained mental performance and memory, and greater mental health.