Are you getting ready for retirement and looking forward to taking it easy? If so, researchers say that you shouldn’t let your brain retire too. In the United States, there are around 5.8 million adults living with Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s expected that this number will reach 16 million by 2050. But there are ways you can slow down this deterioration or even halt it completely.
Living a mentally active life is as important as regular physical exercise. A mental workout helps keep your memory and mental skills active and toned. Keeping your brain active is important to keep it working well. The activities with the biggest impact are those that require you to work beyond what you find easy and comfortable.
Strengthen connections between brain cells
Scientists believe that challenging the brain with new activities helps build new brain cells, while also strengthening the networks between them. This enables the brain to cope better and continue working properly if any brain cells become damaged or die. Mental exercise may also protect against build-up of harmful proteins in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. These neurological issues may be genetic, but your ability to battle the effects of them is not. When you increase your learning during life, you reduce the chance of developing memory-related difficulties. You give your brain a better chance if you keep it active, engaged and challenged.
The nun study
In a unique piece of research, 675 nuns aged older than 75 were studied for 20 years and given mental and physical tests. After they died, their brains were examined, and scientists found that despite shrinkage in the brain, and what appeared to be Alzheimer’s disease, none of the nuns presented signs of the condition while alive. Scientists believe this was because the nuns had a high level of cognitive reserve. They were found to have had a large number of synapses, a structure that allows a nerve cell to pass an electrical or chemical signal to another nerve cell. The nuns had continued to learn new things, which had produced more synapses. Despite technically having Alzheimer’s when they died, their brains never experienced the symptoms because of the high number of reserve synapses that counterbalanced the disease.
Boost your brain health
Here are four ways you can keep your brain healthy.
- Never stop learning: During the first part of your life, you build up solid networks of connections between brain cells or cognitive reserve. Ongoing learning will help build and maintain these crucial connections.
- Challenge your brain: Watching a TV documentary would be on the passive, mildly challenging end. However, learning a new language would be on the very challenging, active end of the spectrum. Mentally challenging tasks have the most impact on our cognitive reserve.
- Make yourself uncomfortable: Getting out of your comfort zone will challenge your mental skills. Go somewhere you’ve never been before, as it forces you to navigate unfamiliar surroundings.
- Socialize: Social isolation increases the risk of you losing some of the brain reserves you’ve built up during your lifetime. Volunteering is a perfect example of a way to increase your social interactions. You will be in a new situation and in contact with a variety of different people.
It’s important to constantly challenge your mind. Doing difficult tasks strengthens the nerve connections that are important to preserving memory. Putting your mind to the test isn’t always easy, but your mind has a way of rising to the occasion. The more you challenge your mind, the more it will reward you.
Sally Collins is a professional freelance writer with many years experience across many different areas. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family and travelling as much as possible.