If I was granted a wish among three things such as being a millionaire for a lifetime, being a powerful politician for a lifetime or staying young forever, I would choose the third one for sure. Alright! I don’t want to come off as a crazy person who could not fathom the reality of human life. So, before you judge me, When I said I would like to stay young forever I didn’t mean having shiny skin and a perfect hourglass figure by the time I turn sixty. I meant staying young in my mind.
Have you heard of the saying - “Wrinkles in the skin are inevitable but they cannot stop your brain from being resilient”? If you haven’t heard that before, it is okay because I just came up with it. Are you intrigued to learn how to keep yourself young? I could hear a “Yes”. Okay, let’s continue reading…
From the time we are born, the heart pumps blood, the liver and the kidney filter blood and the stomach churns food, unlike the brain whose function is not constant. For instance, at birth, every neuron (a functional cell in the nervous system that relays impulse from the brain to the other parts of the body) has about 2500 synapses (connecting points between two neurons) and by the age of three, this number grows to a whopping 15000 synapses per neuron.
But an average adult has only about half the number of neurons compared to when he was three. This happens due to the synaptic pruning mechanism in which the neurons that are frequently used develop stronger connections and those that are rarely used eventually die. That is what we call “Neuroplasticity” (the ability of the brain to keep changing according to the situations).
Let us address the multimillion-dollar question – “What do I have to do with my brain to stay young?”. A very simple answer would be “Train them”. To dive deep into the subject matter, I am going to share the areas of life that you might have to focus on to increase your probability of living longer.
1. YOUR BRAIN LOVES THE GYM
Has your dietitian counselled you about the importance of exercising in the prevention of mental disorders? If yes, then trust me he is right. In addition to keeping our blood flow regular and our muscles fit and firm, exercises increase the neuroplasticity of our brain.
Aerobic exercises, brisk walking and cycling for at least thirty minutes a day increases the production of insulin (a hormone that helps utilize glucose) and endorphins (chemicals that can alleviate pain). When you exercise, the brain being a high energy-demanding organ, begins to quickly turn glucose into fuel. Studies have proven that the higher the brain glucose metabolism, the lesser the chances are for someone to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
During exercise, the brain releases Norepinephrine that improves attention; Endorphins that dulls the sensation of pain; serotonin that enhances mood; dopamine that helps in staying motivated.
What’s especially encouraging is you don’t necessarily have to go overboard to meet the physical activity guidelines to benefit your brain. Researchers concluded that achieving 7500 steps or more daily was equivalent to approximately 1.4 to 2.2 years less brain ageing.
The common excuse most of us give for not being able to exercise is the inability to wake up early in the morning. Although exercising in the morning has additional benefits, exercising any time of the day such as doing squats or marching in place during commercial breaks on TV can help you reduce your sedentary time without much effort.
If you don’t have the discipline to put your feet to work on a daily basis, work out with a friend who will keep you accountable. Keep tracking your progress, which will keep you on your toes for reaching your goals.
2. Hitting the sack (Sleeping)
Do you text your friend saying, “It is time for me to hit the sack! Good night! Sweet Dreams!” but stay up late going through YouTube for hours? You are not alone, my friend. Overwhelming thoughts about your career or your relationship might keep you awake. "Poor sleep leads to worrying. Worrying leads to poor sleep. Worrying about sleep is like your mind trying to fight itself." It is kind of like a loop.
It is important that we analyse our sleep pattern because it is the first red flag that the brain makes if something is wrong. If you have any issues such as anxiety, depression, paranoia, or mania, you might face insomnia. I would advise you to consult a therapist in that case.
If you are one of those who are addicted to gadgets, developing constructive habits such as fixed bedtime, avoiding caffeine, finding a comfortable mattress, getting rid of TV, laptops, and mobile devices at least an hour before sleep, setting a cool temperature and less light in the bedroom can help your brain set circadian rhythm to a routine within a week. Let me share with you the benefits of doing so.
The brain adds new information (acquisition) and it also retrieves information that was stored already consciously or unconsciously (recall) when we are awake. The process of making a memory stable, what we call consolidation only happens during sleep. Sleep encourages our brain to remember more by solidifying memories and strengthening the connection between one region to another.
The brain waves transfer memories from a part of the brain called the hippocampus (a part of the brain where long term memories are stored) to the prefrontal cortex for processing. Having poor-quality sleep in adults causes memory to stay stuck in the hippocampus and not reach the prefrontal cortex which results in forgetfulness of names and events.
Without adequate sleep and rest, over-worked neurons can no longer function to coordinate information properly, and we lose our ability to access previously learned information.
In addition, we lose our ability to make sound decisions because we can no longer accurately assess the situation, plan accordingly, and choose the correct behaviour. It is a mandate to have a good quality sleep during your young age to keep yourself from having memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and dementia later in life.
Also, understand that insomnia can increase a person's risk of developing physical illnesses such as cancer. Disrupting the biological clock by doing overnight shifts causes exposure to light thereby reducing levels of melatonin, encouraging some forms of cancer such as breast, colon, prostate, and ovarian cancers to grow. People who keep night work shifts are at risk here.
If you are keen to know the chances of developing memory disorders and cognitive disabilities in the future in order to take necessary precautionary measures, take a reliable test online by clicking the link - Cognitive Function Test (foodforthebrain.org) [The Prerequisite for the test – Aged between 50 and 70]. You can take the test yourself if you are 50 years old and above or you can forward this to your parents, elders and help them become aware of the situation.
3. A skilled mind is a young mind
Studies reveal that bilingual brains are more resilient to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK used brain scans of 45 German-Italian speakers and 40 monolingual speakers during their study. The results were astounding as bilinguals had increased functional connections in the areas of the brain that are responsible for executive control. In other words, the ability of the bilingual brain to switch quickly between several languages made it more flexible.
Music can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also improves memory, social interaction, and social inclusion. The review showed that you don’t need to play music at a high level to reap its benefits. Some people play simple instruments; others sing; some others benefit from simply listening to music they connect with. Moreover, you don’t need professional instruction.
Currently, there are online resources for learning to play the acoustic guitar, as well as the electric guitar, piano, and indeed most any instrument you can think of. These allow you to learn at your own pace. Of course, if you can also have professional guidance, all the better since a teacher can help you overcome specific stumbling blocks.
4. Survival of the fittest social species
I knew for a long time that “If I teach someone before an examination, I learn better and I write my exams better.” Professor Matthew Lieberman from the University of California could not agree more with me. He specializes in the mechanics of the “social brain” which is the neural activity related to social interaction and the benefits that are afforded by it. This goes against the prominent beliefs in modern educational systems, in which learning on one’s own, for the sake of accumulating knowledge and skills, is typically preferred.
A study published last year also found that maintaining close friendships later in life could help to prevent mental decline. However, at least occasionally, socializing with people — whether they’re our close friends or new acquaintances — can allow us to get out of our own heads a little and gain fresh insights into the world.
Being happier, learning better, and living longer are all advantages that should motivate even the most dedicated of loners to get out there and mingle. Now close your browser and give that old friend of yours a call.