We are still learning so much about the brain, as we still need to unlock so many unknown secrets. The aging brain is something that is continuously being studied. When it comes to cognition, there are ways in which we can improve functioning. As we age, our cognition declines, so it’s important to stay active and healthy.
Habits that Improve Cognition
The way you live your life has a lot to do with your cognition. You can actively improve functioning by making certain choices, creating a healthy, balanced lifestyle. You may not give each habit much thought, but once you make slight changes, you could potentially see incredible benefits.
Through research, it has been found that physical activity is beneficial for cognition and brain health. When you exercise, hormones are increased. These hormones are believed to help improve your memory.
During endurance exercise, a molecule known as irisin is produced. This molecule is believed to create neuroprotective properties. When researchers artificially increase irisin levels, genes involving memory and learning were activated.
Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain, allowing for better nourishment. If you are going to see these improvements, you need to make exercise a regular habit. It’s more beneficial to keep up regular exercise in comparison to intense exercise sporadically. So, start opting for the stairs instead of the elevator.
Being Open to Experience
Within a 2013 study, it was found that learning new skills, while being socially active, are both key for staying sharp. As we age, we have been encouraged to actively use our brains. Instead of doing crosswords, it’s recommended that you get out and do something. More specifically do something that is unfamiliar to you.
If you’re in your comfort zone, you may not enhance brain function. A training program in 2012 found that when cognition was boosted, so was one’s willingness to try new things. This was the first time that an intervention took place without the use of drugs, changing a personality trait that was believed to be fixed.
Human beings are social creatures. As we age, social interaction can decline. This is because older individuals are retired, are not actively raising children, and simply do not have the structure in their life to maintain social engagement. Majority of older individuals have a small circle of close friends and relatives.
It has been found that feelings of loneliness can actually trigger cognitive decline. When an individual feels isolated, there are several consequences. Blood pressure tends to increase, sleep patterns are disrupted, stress and depression increase, which then affects overall well-being. All of these factors play a role in reducing cognitive function.
Creativity is so beneficial, as it is not only linked to improve brain function, but simply enriches your life. Neuroscientists have discovered that musical training improves both the function and connectivity of various brain regions.
When individuals practice an instrument, brain volume increases, while brain areas strengthen. Playing an instrument can actually change the way you interpret sensory information (this is especially true if you learn before the age of seven).
Another study found that reading and writing at any age, may help preserve memory. When you read a book, you generally become engrossed in its content. This has been shown to improve connectivity, while improving brain function. This may be linked to flexing one’s imagination.
We’re discovering more and more about learning and memory each and everyday. In order to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s, it is beneficial to expose yourself to a stimulant-rich environment. Problem solving is believed to be a contributing factor when preventing cognitive decline.
In 2014, it was found that ten sessions of cognitive training was enough to improve reasoning and processing speed. Despite what we believed before, neurons can be generated at any age. When we take part in complex mental activity (such as brain-training games), we protect our brains by building a reserve of neurons and synaptic connections.
Meditation is a regular part of many lives. Within a 2013 study, it was found that meditation, mindfulness, and stress reduction, may all play important roles regarding age-related cognitive disorders.
Actively meditating may slow down the progression of cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is responsible for learning, emotion, and memory. This area of the brain is known to be affected when individuals progress towards Alzheimer’s. There is also a link between stress and Alzheimer’s disease.
When you meditate, your hippocampus is activated. Those who actively meditate, tend to have higher concentrations of grey matter. Although more research needs to be conducted, the findings are exciting thus far. Since meditation may reduce hippocampus atrophy, while improving functional connectivity; this would be a relatively simple intervention method.
When you are constantly under high levels of stress, cortisol levels can damage the brain. When you experience chronic stress, this can trigger long-term changes in brain structure. These changes can potentially lead to cognitive decline.
Cortisol is the ‘stress hormone,’ which may hard-wire certain pathways between the hippocampus and amygdala. This causes your brain to be in a constant state of fight-or-flight. It is believed that these hardened wires, may be associated with prolonged stress. This creates an excess of myelin, along with too much white matter.
When you’re highly stressed, this chronic stress has the ability to alter stem cells. When this switch occurs, stem cells turn into a type of cell that inhibits connections regarding the prefrontal cortex (which improves learning ability and memory). Instead of allowing for this positive connection, there’s a potential increase for depression, anxiety, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
Focus on Getting Enough Sleep
It has been known for quite some time that sleep is required in order to consolidate memory and learning. Since this is an intensive process, it’s believed that your brain benefits from sleep because there’s more energy available and less distractions.
Over time, sleep difficulties may lead to cognitive impairment. Sleep deprivation, daytime tiredness, oversleeping, and sleep-disorder breathing, may all play a role in cognitive issues as we get older.