The July issue of Consumer Reports On Health contains a very interesting article about the brain as it ages. Recent studies show that the choices people make throughout their lifetime have a significant impact on their ability to remain sharp in old age.
“Your brain doesn’t know how old you are…and doesn’t care,” says Paul D. Nussbaum, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “It just wants to be in a stimulating environment, and that’s something you can do at any age.”
There are several things you can do to keep your brain stimulated as you age:
- Build a mental reserve—research has shown that the more participants engaged in mentally stimulating activities like reading, writing, crossword puzzles, playing board or card games, playing music, participating in group discussions, the longer they delayed rapid memory decline. Not surprisingly, passive activities, such as watching television, don’t count as “mentally stimulating”.
- Keep working—putting off retirement and continuing to work can also help. However, don’t put in such long hours that you are neglecting your rest. A 2009 British survey found that people who worked more than 55 hours weekly scored similarly on vocabulary and reasoning tests as those who worked more reasonable hours.
- Stay healthy—exercise and diet are extremely influential in helping to keep your brain energized. Countless studies show that people who exercise a few times per week and maintain a healthy diet have stronger hearts and overall better health than people who don’t exercise or eat well. When you consider that “with every beat of your heart, 25% of the blood flow goes right to your brain,” according to Nussbaum, it’s easy to see why taking care of your heart has a direct impact on your brain function.
- Sleep on it—getting enough sleep is also critical. If you reduce an average night’s sleep of 7-8 hours by 1-2 hours, your response time will be slower, you will have more difficulty with complex tasks, and you will have more trouble remembering information. Just like your body, your brain also needs a rest. Sleeping gives your brain time to make connections to new information and shuttle it to long term memory.
- Stay connected—studies have shown that the more frequently people interacted with others, the higher their scores on simple tests of cognitive functions, so stay connected with colleagues, family and friends on a regular basis.
Keeping your brain energized is a no-brainer. If you’d like to take a little break from your daily grind right now and try a little mental exercise to help boost your brain power, check out these optical illusions.
On this day, October 7th, Dr. Harvey Cushing passed away in 1939. Dr. Cushing was a pioneer of brain surgery, and is often called "the father of neurosurgery." Almost singlehandedly, he perfected the techniques of brain and nerve operations. Pre-Cushing, mortality rates for neurosurgery were very high...50-60%. Over the course of his career, Dr. Cushing experienced mortality rates of 10%.