Generations ago we would just accept these things as normal aging, but now we know we can slow a lot of that down well into our senior years by challenging ourselves a little bit every day.
According to Dr. Paul Nussbaum of FitBrains, it all comes down to ‘brain reserve,’ which is the power of the brain to physically reorganize itself to handle the stress placed upon it.
Dr. Nussbaum explains that a healthy brain should look like a lush, vibrant jungle of dense cellular connections. He likens dementia and other mental deteriorations as acting like a weedwhacker, cutting away at the foliage. If you have not built up a dense forest throughout your lifetime, the weedwhacker’s effects will be seen much faster.
It’s like comparing the Amazon Jungle to an overgrown vacant lot: which one can you clear first?
There are five categories of mental exercise that will build your lush jungle of connections to fight against the weedwhacker of dementia, and all of them have something in common – trying new things. (You may remember hearing that suggestion from us a time or two on this site. It’s our favorite “staying young” strategy!)
Memory and Learning
These originate in the Hippocampus section of your brain. Your Hippocampus can continue to generate new brain cells in stimulating environments, and it is one of the earliest areas ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic stress can also impair the function of the Hippocampus, making it harder to recall.
Why is memory so important?
Our life story is built by encoding and retaining our daily experiences. Our personal identity is framed by our memory and ability to learn from these memories,” says Dr. Nussbaum.
When your daily experiences are more varied and stimulating, you will be building new brain cells every day.
Concentration and Attention
Your brain gets information inputs from your five senses.
While a deeper level of processing is not necessary for attention to occur, it is also true that a deeper level of information processing cannot occur without normal attention,” says Dr. Nussbaum.
If you can’t pay attention, you won’t be able to learn anything in a deeper way. If you want to live the good life, you have to pay attention and concentrate on the things you need to learn and do to get there.
When you try new things, it takes more of your attention and concentration than your regular daily activities. Think of the last time you tried to cook a new dish as opposed to when you prepare an old favorite. It took a lot more of your concentration, didn’t it?
Language includes all the ways we communicate with each other: by speaking, writing, gesturing, and with our tones, facial expressions, and even the types of words we use.
Studies show that learning a new language creates new pathways in your brain, further growing that lush jungle of brain connections that will keep your brain strong.
The quickest way to get the life you want is to understand it yourself and be able to share it with other people.
Whether it is brushing up on your own language skills through writing or expressing your ideas or by learning a new language, you’ll be trying something new and strengthening your brain.
Visual and Spatial
Knowing where you are, how you fit into your environment, and what is around you helps you to navigate in this world on foot, in a car, or riding a bike. It is what helps you find your way in a new city or remember where you parked your car.
If you don’t know where you are, it will be hard to get where you want to go.
Stretching this “muscle” on a daily basis will keep you centered and able to manage what comes your way.
Executive Functions (Problem Solving, Logic and Reasoning)
This is the CEO of your brain. It doesn’t necessarily contribute to the learning or knowledge so much as controls the inputs and memories of the rest of your brain. This is also where your impulse control is governed (one of the last pieces of the brain to mature, which helps explains why teenagers are the way they are).
This CEO of your brain will help you organize, plan, and implement the dream life you want to live.
By using this function to create the life of your dreams, you are actually keeping your brain younger and more fit.
What does this mean for you?
When you start thinking of your brain as a muscle that needs to be fed properly and exercised to remain fit, you’ll understand why it is so important to continue challenging yourself throughout your life. People who are living the good life know this, and they regularly challenge their knowledge and beliefs through reading, learning, new experiences, travel, meeting new people, and through frequently setting and achieving goals in their lives.
And speaking of old age, who wouldn’t want to be like Janey from Glasgow, singing her heart out at age 80 on the big stage? We cannot think of a better way to end a discussion on keeping your brain young by trying new things than this. Sing us out, girl…
Navigate your new adventures with smart financial, logistical, and social advice. Get our action plan for making your dreams a reality – the sure path to staying young no matter what your age!