Everyone struggles to find a word or remember a name sometimes (“Where did I put my keys?” is a daily refrain in this writer’s household). As we age, however, these blips may induce fresh worries about how our brains are holding up. So, in honor of September’s Healthy Aging Month, we’re focusing on how to keep the most important part of your body—your brain—sharp and agile long into the future. Here are six tips you can start doing today, regardless of how many candles you had on your last birthday cake.
Get Your Heart Rate Up
Obviously, we know exercise is good for us. But why does it help the aging brain? As we age, the neuronal cells in our brains die (depressing, we know), which researchers believe leads to literal shrinking of the brain—with the volume and weight declining roughly 5% per decade after age 40. Research shows cardiovascular exercise can lead to the formation of new neurons, which are crucial to memory. One study from the University of Iowa shows that even one single 30-minute session of cardio can improve memory, which means you don’t have to take on training for a marathon to reap the benefits.
Challenge Your Coordination
According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, who wrote “Successful Aging,” it’s not just cardio that matters but specifically engaging in exercises that activate the parts of your brain responsible for spatial memory and navigation—say, walking on a trail in the woods, playing tennis, or going to the climbing gym. These activities essentially exercise your hippocampus, which is where your memory center lies. “[The hippocampus] didn’t evolve to remember the lyrics to songs,” he said. “Your memory evolved … to remember where you are in space.”
Take CBD Daily
The hemp plant has been used for its medicinal properties in China and India for more than 4,000 years, and we’re just now starting to figure out why. Though CBD hasn’t yet been approved by the FDA, recent studies suggest cannabinoids such as CBD support brain health and may play a role in delaying onset of normal age-related cognitive decline and increase connections between brain cells. Recent studies from California’s Salk Institute suggest CBD may help reduce inflammation, reduce oxygen buildup, and protect and stimulate brain cells—all of which may be helpful in preventing or treating dementia. Try integrating Miraflora’s CBD Softgels, which contain 100% full-spectrum hemp oil, with other brain-health supplements like omega-3 DHA, choline, and vitamins D and B12 into your daily routine.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
It’s well-documented that learning—i.e. keeping your brain active—helps maintain individual brain cells and stimulates communication among them. But, according to recent Yale research, sitting on your couch doing crossword puzzles is not going to cut it. According to the study, being in an environment that is predictable and stable essentially shuts down the brain’s learning centers, so in order to truly create new synaptic connections, you need try new things that might even scare you a little. This can be anything from traveling abroad to changing up your daily routine to engaging in discussions with people whom you disagree with. (Leo Tolstoy learned to ride a bike at age 67.) Whatever you can do to introduce newness or volatility to your life, it may increase your brain’s ability to absorb information.
According to Dr. William Klemm, senior professor of neuroscience at Texas A&M University, stress releases corticosteroid hormones that shrink synapses (the junctions between neurons) and directly impair brain function. It’s key to have the self-awareness to know when you’re stressed, and to be able to identify how to relieve it, he said. Often times stress increases as you age with the onset of pain or medical issues, but older people tend to be more capable of coping with stress due to life experience. “If you haven’t learned coping mechanisms by the time you’re my age—” Klemm is 87—”you’re not paying attention,” Klemm said, laughing. Klemm suggests finding activities that you enjoy—he listens to jazz—and engaging in them often.
Find a Purpose (or Never Retire)
According to Ross Andel, the director of the School of Aging Studies at the University of South Florida, years of data collected from older adults who go through the retirement process suggest a swift and strong decline in the brain’s processing speed, which is the main indicator of an aging brain. The reason for this is twofold: When the brain isn’t engaged, the connections become dormant, he said. Also, according to Klemm, there is the psychological effect of not having a purpose each day, which can lead to overall listlessness. So what to do? If your work is meaningful to you, keep doing it, even if it’s in a smaller capacity. If it’s not, find something else you’re passionate about—whether it’s volunteering, traveling, writing, or playing music—and treat it like your job.