TRONDHEIM, Norway — What’s the best way to maintain optimal brain health as we age? There are countless studies detailing ways to prevent cognitive decline. The Norwegian scientists therefore sought to simplify the science of managing good brain health into three recommendations.
“The keys to our nervous system are gray and white matter,” says Hermundur Sigmundsson, a professor in the department of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), in a university statement.
Gray matter is made up of nerve cells (neurons) and dendrites, while white matter works to facilitate contact between cells (myelinated axons) and contributes to the speed of transmission and distribution of signals. If one can keep his white and gray matter “in shape”, cognition, thinking skills and memory should also be functioning properly.
This report is something of a summary covering the current understanding of modern science on how best to cultivate robust brain health. The NTNU team cites 101 references to earlier papers in this latest theoretical perspective paper.
“Three factors stand out if you want to keep your brain at its best,” adds Professor Sigmundsson.
The three keys identified for good brain health are:
Simple, right? Let’s break down each factor a little further.
It’s common knowledge that spending all day on the couch isn’t healthy for the body, but physical activity is also essential for brain health. “An active lifestyle helps develop the central nervous system and fight brain aging,” according to the study authors.
The researchers add that consistency is key. Do your best to do at least some movement each day. Even if you do a sedentary job that requires a lot of sitting, move around every hour or so for at least a few minutes.
Some people are naturally more social than others, but researchers emphasize that no one is an island. Even if you’d rather have a quiet evening than attend a party, make an effort to stay in touch with the people you care about. Our brains thrive on social interactions and connections.
“Relationships with and interaction with other people contribute to a number of complex biological factors that can keep the brain from slowing down,” says Professor Sigmundsson.
Keep learning and stay passionate
Just as bicep curls help us build muscle, keeping the brain active promotes strong cognition throughout life. Consider taking up a new hobby or learning a new skill. Perhaps most importantly, however, don’t force it; find something you are truly passionate about. It’s never too late in life to learn something new!
“Passion, or having a strong interest in something, can be the deciding and driving factor that leads us to learn new things. Over time, this impacts the development and maintenance of our neural networks,” says Professor Sigmundsson.
Cognitive conclusion for better brain health
Overall, the study authors say much of their advice can be summed up by the old adage, “Use it or lose it.” Our brains are kind of amazing machines, but like any other tool, they will begin to wither away if left inactive for too long.
“Brain development is closely linked to lifestyle. Physical exercise, relationships and passion help develop and maintain the basic structures of our brains as we age,” concludes Professor Sigmundsson.
The study is published in Brain science.