5 Tips for a younger Brain

stop agingKeep on moving
For those of you who think that the number one thing you can do for your brain is to indulge in Sudoku puzzles, differential calculus or quantum physics, I hate to tell you this, but you’re wrong! The easiest way to sharpen your brain is to put on a pair of. .. sneakers! Yup! That’s right! Once they’re on your feet, you can pump up your heart rate. “The best advice I can give to keep your brain healthy and young is aerobic exercise,” says Donald Stuss, PhD, a neuro psychologist and director of the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto. Mark McDaniel, PhD, a professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, agrees, but adds, “I would suggest a combined program of aerobics and weight training. Studies show the best outcomes for those engaged in both types of exercise.” As the years go by and, much as we protest, we age, our brain cells, which are called neurons, lose the tree-branch-like connections between them. These connections, or synapses as they are scientifically known, are essential for us to think. Quite literally, over time, our brains lose their heft. The most striking brain research today, perhaps is the strong evidence we now have that “exercise may forestall some kinds of mental decline,” as noted by McDaniel. In fact it may even restore memory. A number of animal studies have shown that, among other benefits for the brain, aerobic exercise increases the development of capillaries in the brain, which in turn means more blood supply, more nutrients and – a huge requirement for a healthy brain – more oxygen. A prominent exercise and brain-health researcher in humans is Arthur Kramer. He’s based at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign and has conducted a dozen studies over the past few years, with titles such as “Aerobic Fitness Reduces Brain Tissue Loss in Aging Humans”. Kramer and his colleagues have proved two critical findings which I’d like to share with you here: Fit people have sharper brains and those who are out of shape, but then get into shape, sharpen up their brains. This second finding is crucial for those of us who want to get brainier than we are currently. There’s no question that working out makes you smarter, and it does so, Kramer notes, at all stages of life. Just as important, exercise staves off heart disease, obesity, diabete and other maladies that increase the risk of brain problems as we age

Stay calm
Don’t get your knickers in a twist thinking that you now have to sign up for French and calculus and take guitar lessons before you brain withers away! Stop! Breathe! Relax! Good. While challenging your brain is very important, remaining calm is equally so. In a paper on the brain and stress, Jeansok Kim of the University of Washington asserts, in no uncertain terms, that traumatic stress is bad for your brain cells. We don’t realise it but stress can “disturb cognitive processes such as learning and memory, and consequently limit the quality of human life,” writes Kim. It also manifests itself in various illnesses. This made me laugh a little, but there’s a part of the brain known as the hippopotamus. No, this is not where the hippopotamus come to study, but the primary locus of memory formation which can be seriously debilitated by chronic stress. If you’re like me you may know that physical exercise is always a great de-stressor, while others may bear witness to calmer activities like yoga and
meditation. Whatever you’re doing with your life, make sure you can stay loose and have fun.

Give it a rest
example of the mental power of staying calm is the creative benefit of sleep. Next time you’re working on a complex problem, whether it’s a work related issue or choosing the right car for your family, it really does pay to “sleep on it.”

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have looked at the conditions under which people come up with creative solutions and in a study involving math problems, they found that a good night’s rest doubled participants’ chances of finding a creative solution to the problems the next day. The sleeping brain, they theorize, is vastly capable of synthesizing complex information. Don’t believe me? Sleep on it…

Laugh a little
You must have heard that ‘laughter is the best medicine’. In fact humour stimulates the parts of our brain that use the feel good chemical messenger, dopamine. That puts laughter in the category of activities you want to do over and over again, such as eating chocolate, riding roller-coasters or hanging out with the man of your dreams. Laughter is pleasurable, and perhaps even addictive, to the brain, and this keeps it healthy.
But can humour make us smarter? The jury is still out and more studies are needed, but the initial results look encouraging. What’s to lose? Laughing also bums calories and spreads smiles!

Get better with age
In our youth-obsessed culture, it’s hard to convince people to embrace the idea of aging instead of dressing younger, looking younger and pretending to be younger! We’ve heard about the wisdom and judgment of older people, but now even scientists are starting to understand how wisdom works on a neurological level.

When you are older, explains Merzenich, (the same guy who came up with the brain training software) “you have recorded in your brain millions and millions of little social scenarios and facts” that you can call upon at any time. Furthermore, he notes, “you are a much better synthesizer and integrator of that information. ”

Older people are better at solving problems, because they have more mental information to draw upon than younger people do, that is to say, they’ve had more experience with life. This is the reason why those of us who are in their fifties and sixties are seasoned and sage. They’re the ones we turn to for the best advice, our parents and grandparents, the ones we entrust our companies and futures to, and in an ordinary world those we let run our countries.

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