Your healthy brain may or may not stay that way as you age. Most of us know
this as a truism, but either believe that there is little that can be done to change how our brain will age, or are just too confounded by the myriad of factors that affect the health and wellness of our brain that we’d just rather not think about it.
Research focusing on how the brain functions as we age has progressed significantly in the past several decades. This research on the human brain shows that most factors affecting cognitive vitality fall into one of several categories.
– Biochemical reactions to stressors
– Natural changes to brain structure and function
– Environmental influences
– Intentional thinking
There are several factors that cannot be altered by the individual. One, of course, is the aging process itself. Age-related changes to the brain structure (link to a Tier 2 on natural age-related brain changes) affects cognitive abilities.
Genetics is another. Also beyond our control – and primarily a result of an individual’s genetic make-up – are the chemical changes that the body undergoes as a way of dealing with toxins, stress and other potentially harmful stimuli that are uniquely encountered by every person.
It is safe to say that most people understand that poor lifestyle choices can affect quality of life later on. Most would also argue that brain function and quality of life are intertwined.
Lifestyle choices include decisions we make regarding nutrition, exercise, the cleanliness of our environment, recreational indulgences (or abstinence) in things like smoking, drinking, etc. These choices, over time, can alter the way the body functions, including the brain.
What is meant by “intentional thinking? It is similar to exercising the body. Because we know that exercising the body is a healthful endeavor, people who want to feel their best intentionally exercise. They put on the most suitable clothes and equipment for the exercise and try to use proper form to get the most from their exertion.
Intentional thinking is putting the mind in a position to be exercised in a way that will produce the best results. It encompasses brain training, as well as attitude.
While brain training may exercise the mind, attitude – intentionally striving for a healthy, more positive mindset – can also affect the functioning of the brain. Psychology Today states that “negative mood variance disturbs your interaction with your environment, affecting your ability to perceive, remember, and reinforce existing or create new neural connections.”
Another result of purposefully staying positive is that it may help ward off depression, a mental disorder which, according to the CDC affects up to 5% of those elderly living in the community and up to almost 14% for those who need home healthcare.
Aging and age-related biological changes are a natural part of life. Additionally, there are some things related to our aging process which are beyond our control. However, as we’ve touched on above, there are also some steps that can be taken to safeguard our healthy minds, keeping our cognitive capabilities as strong as possible.
http://www.cdc.gov/aging/mentalhealth/depression.htm in section “Healthy Aging”
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prime-your-gray-cells/201108/happy-brain-happy-lifeHappy Brain, Happy Life
Happy brains are more creative, quicker, and more mentally alert by Susan Reynolds on Aug 02, 2011 in Prime Your Gray Cells