We speak often about the decline of our physical body in the aging process, but forget to mention the wonderful side effects that come from years spent within that body. After multiple decades, we finally achieve a calmer state of mind and a thorough teaching of life’s lessons allow us to take things in a stride a bit more.
As our older bodies begin to require more care, we can also develop an appreciation for them and introduce habits and behaviors that support a robust aging process. A recent session at the 2017 Neuroscience Educational Institute Congress suggested that we pay particular attention to the four main lifestyle areas that impact the aging process, specifically in regard to brain aging.
The positives of plasticity
Dr. Stephen M. Stahl of the University of California San Diego proposes that intelligence remains the stable in the aging process, however it tends to be our quickness and mental agility that declines. He advises introducing or continuing habits that support a healthy diet and regular exercise routine, adequate sleep and hearing loss intervention all lead to continued neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to flex and adapt. This neuroplasticity is a quality we want to continue to cultivate in our brains as we get older.
Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, used to say, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot!” What we might take away from this pithy homegrown wisdom is the idea that by keeping the brain in a growing and learning state, we preserve its highest functions for as long as possible.
The perks of being a muscle head
In our twenties, we might experience an injury only to heal within a few days or weeks. That just isn’t the reality for a body that’s been around for more than half a century. Instead, we learn to work with our limitations and requirements, to prevent injury altogether when possible so that recovery time isn’t required in the first place. We might think of our brain as a muscle we’re similarly required to support and maintain because we want to preserve this particular muscle as long as possible.
Flex your brain?
Like any other muscle, regular exercise benefits the brain. This is for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, most forward-thinking health paradigms spend more and more time looking at the body as a whole system. In order for the brain to operate at maximum function, health experts recommend routines that support the entire body organism. Regular exercise provides movement, which is what the body was designed for. It also aids the circulatory system, results in lower instances of depression and anxiety, decreases instances of osteoporosis, and all around healthier tissues.
Specifically for brain function, exercise increases blood flow, an essential element of a healthy brain. Moreover, the repetitive movements inherent to many modes of exercise strengthens the mind/body connection and enhances those neuropathways in the brain. Even better, new types of movements create new neuropathways, a major factor in neuroplasticity.
What’s in your cupboard?
There are a million diets out there and some of them even have solid research behind them to demonstrate resulting positive impacts on brain function. Speaking with your physician is probably the best way to choose the diet that is best for you. It might be beneficial to do a little online research or a quick survey of your friends to see what they’ve found to be successful before you and your doctor choose the winner.
While it may seem like a host of chores, television episodes or the next chapters of your book are calling to you to stay up way past your bedtime, try to prioritize your sleep. Commit to a reasonable bedtime that allows for at least six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. Sleep disorders, like insomnia, tend to affect a larger number of older adults. If uninterrupted sleep feels like a distant dream, speak to your physician to discern or treat the underlying cause and put sleep back on the top of your list.
Intervene in hearing loss
Hearing loss is an example of how neuroplasticity can work against us. When hearing, a large part of which happens in the brain, loses healthy functioning the parts of our brain responsible can shuffle the cards, so to speak. What might happen is that the areas of the brain previously devoted to translating sound into hearing realize that they’re not being utilized and receive reorganization orders. This is particularly impactful as the same part of the brain responsible for hearing also houses memory. Researchers now think that this is the reason that people with hearing loss have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
If hearing loss is impacting your life, reach out to us at Atlanta Hearing Doctor. A quick and easy hearing exam coupled with a conversation with our team can result in immediate intervention that is suited for your unique situation.