Take the health of your brain into your own hands.
With such a large portion of our population reaching their golden years, there’s been a lot of research on how to keep the brain healthy. “Brain games” showed early promise, but recent research shows that cognitive improvements from apps and computers are limited to the type of brain games played, and don’t necessarily translate to maintaining or improving overall brain health.
An optimally functioning brain is at the heart of healthy aging. When we are able to keep cognitive decline at bay, we are better suited to enjoying our full range of activities and independent living that we desire. Physical exercise, specifically aerobic exercise and strength training has shown to be effective at keeping the brain healthy through multiple ways: increasing blood flow to the brain, keeping the brain free of waste and full of nutrients, and amplifying the production of BDNF.
An intriguing new area of research is looking at ‘effortful learning’—the combination of physical activity and cognitive learning—as a way to keep our brains in top form. Our ability to dual task, effectively do two things at once, (think talking while walking or driving safely under adverse conditions), tends to get worse as we age. Including effortful learning into your daily routine could be a way to hold off this decline. As we create the conditions for the birth of new neurons in our brain with physical exercise, we also instantly harness those connections, putting them to use so they don’t just die off.
Sarah McEwen at UCLA Center for Cognitive Neuroscience has created programs that incorporate physical exercise with specific brain training, focusing on cognitive processes that tend to decline most of with age. She has participants biking while working with memorizing lists or training visual response with lights. She is finding through her research that the combination of physical and mental training is much more effective at preventing cognitive decline than either is alone.
Prevention is truly the key, since there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s and other diseases that cause cognitive decline. By taking advantage of these current findings, we can all create the conditions for having a healthy brain as we age.