Summary: Three factors have been identified that help keep your brain performing at its best.
Your brain is quite fabulous. About 100 billion nerve cells work together to keep you nimble and quick thinking.
But just like the rest of the body, your brain may not be as vigorous when you get a little older. Maybe you have to write things down, or you miss appointments, or you can’t quite follow the conversation or the action on TV without straining.
Fortunately, it is also possible to exercise your brain.
“The keys to our nervous system are gray and white matter,” says Hermundur Sigmundsson, a professor in NTNU’s Department of Psychology.
Broadly speaking, gray matter is made up of nerve cells – or neurons – and dendrites, while white matter provides contact between cells (myelinated axons) and contributes to the speed of transmission and distribution of signals.
Three factors contribute to good brain health
A recent article in the journal brain science brings together much of what we know from previous research in the field of brain health. The researchers went to great lengths to be thorough in their theoretical perspective article and offer 101 article references on how to keep our gray and white matter in shape.
“Three factors stand out if you want to keep your brain at its best,” says Sigmundsson.
These factors are:
- Physical exercise.
- Be social.
- Have strong interests. Learn new things and don’t hold back new challenges.
This is probably the biggest challenge for many of us. Your body becomes sluggish if you sit too much on your butt. Unfortunately, the same goes for the brain.
“An active lifestyle helps develop the central nervous system and fight brain aging,” according to Sigmundsson and colleagues.
It is therefore important not to get stuck in your chair. It takes effort, and there’s no getting around it. If you have a sedentary job, go to school or when you’re done working, you need to be active, including physically.
Some of us are happiest alone or with a few people, and we know that “hell is other people” – if we transcribe a little the phrase of the writer-philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. (Although his version is admittedly a little more involved.) But in this regard, you have to arm yourself.
“Relationships with and interaction with others contribute to a number of complex biological factors that can keep the brain from slowing down,” says Sigmundsson.
Being with other people, for example through conversation or physical contact, promotes healthy brain function.
This last point may have something to do with your personality, but if you’ve read this far, chances are you already have the basics and are probably ready to learn.
“Passion, or having a strong interest in something, can be the deciding and driving factor that leads us to learn new things. Over time, this impacts the development and maintenance of our neural networks,” says Sigmundsson.
Stay curious. Don’t give up and let everything run its course the same all the time. You’re never too old to do something you’ve never done before. It may be time to learn to play a new musical instrument.
Use it or lose it
Sigmundsson collaborated with Masters student Benjamin H. Dybendal and Associate Professor Simone Grassini at the University of Stavanger on the full article.
Their research therefore presents a similar picture for the brain and for the body. You have to exercise your brain so that it doesn’t break down. “Use it or lose it”, as the saying goes.
“Brain development is closely linked to lifestyle. Physical exercise, relationships and passion help develop and maintain the basic structures of our brains as we age,” says Sigmundsson.
These three factors therefore offer some of the keys to maintaining a good quality of life and, hopefully, aging well.
About this brain health research news
Author: Steinar Brandslet
Contact: Steinar Brandslet – NTNU
Image: Image is in public domain
Original research: Free access.
“Movement, Relationship, and Passion in Physiological and Cognitive Brain Aging” by Hermundur Sigmundsson et al. brain science
Movement, relationship and passion in physiological and cognitive aging of the brain
The objective of this article was to present important factors to maintain intact the basic structures of the cerebral functioning of a person, that is to say the gray and white matter.
Several lines of evidence have shown that movement, relationship and passion are central factors for the preservation of the neural system in gray and white matter during aging.
It has been shown that an active lifestyle contributes to the development of the central nervous system and opposes brain aging.
Interpersonal relationships and interactions have been shown to contribute to complex biological factors that promote the decline of cognitive resilience.
Moreover, the current scientific literature suggests that passion, a strong interest, could be the driving factor motivating individuals to learn new things, thus influencing the development and maintenance of the functional neural network over time.
This theoretical perspective paper aims to convey several key messages: (1) brain development is critically affected by lifestyle; (2) physical training helps to develop and maintain brain structures during aging, and may be one of the keys to a good quality of life as an older person; (3) various stimuli are a key factor in maintaining brain structures; (4) movement, relationship and passion are key elements in contrasting the loss of gray and white matter in the brain.
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