Author of the award-winning book, Live Long, Die Short: A Guide to Authentic Health and Successful Aging and President of Masterpiece Living
- I’m worried about my brain function as I age. Is decreased ability or even dementia inevitable?
In a word … no. In two words … Absolutely Not! There are changes that occur with age but research tells us that our brains at age 80 don’t work all that differently than our brains at age 30 … IF … and this is a big if … we use them and care for them.
We are the architects of our brains. When we feed our brains with blood by keeping physically active, regularly eating fruits, nuts, vegetables and fish (a Mediterranean diet), and get generous amounts of sleep, our brains become like trained athletes. And like athletes, we must let them perform or they will become lazy and slow. This requires us to not only use our brains, but to learn new things. Learning big things … like a language or a new skill is a powerful and healthy brain changer. But even small things – like occasionally eating with the opposite hand, or just getting out of our comfort zone is also remarkably beneficial.
What is inevitable is that when we do these simple things … learn, move, eat well, and get our sleep … our brains thank us by performing at their best no matter what our age.
- Could you tell me more about how I’m the architect of my brain?
Research has discovered that brains are more dynamic at older ages than we previously thought. The brain has a life-long ability to rewire itself in response to disease, injury, or what we ask it to do. This characteristic, called neuroplasticity, means that we can grow new neural pathways (connections) in the brain when we take care of it as noted in the first question, and when we challenge it by learning new things. These new connections can allow us to continue to do what we want and need to do, even as we age.
The remarkable story of Jill Bolte Taylor (See TED.com for her presentation) is awe-inspiring. She suffered a devastating stroke but over time was able to develop new connections in her brain which allowed her to function normally. Her story gives us all hope for maintaining and building our intellectual abilities throughout our lives by showing us the important role WE all play.
We are the architects … so let’s build stuff … build new connections by nurturing and challenging our brains every day. I, for one, prefer to know that my intellectual ability is more up to me than to chance.
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