A good piece by Clarence Bass: https://www.cbass.com/brainaging.html At an age when brain function is expected to tank, interest in keeping our brain going strong is likely to peak. (I speak from experience.) We know that exercise and healthy living can slow physical aging. What about mental acuity? Can healthy living bolster the aging brain? The answer is Yes. The details are many—and fascinating. Brain Changes with Age At birth, we begin learning, and storing life experiences. This process continues into our late 20s, when the brain typically reaches peak capacity. That, of course, doesn’t mean we stop learning and growing wiser. We keep learning the ways of the world. Experience becomes our mentor. While most of us level out in the 70s and 80s—the brain begins to shrink—there are many things we can do to preserve brain function. Gerontologists have mapped out brain changes over time, and studied ways to preserve brain health and stay sharp longer. Those who help themselves do best. We’ll begin by looking at the evolution of brain function over the decades—and then turn to ways to bolster brain function. As usual, we’ll cut to the chase and then provide links to sources with more details. * * * As you grow older you slow down physically and mentally, perhaps becoming wiser over time. In the 20s, the regions of the brain responsible for judgment, planning, assessing risk and decision-making top out. In the 30s, memory begins to slip. It takes longer to learn new things or remember words and names. The decline continues in the decades ahead. In the 40s and 50s, reasoning skills slow—while moral decision-making, regulating emotions and reading social situations improve. Social skills improve over time. We tend to remember positive images more than negative ones—a trend that continues until at least age 80. In the 60s, the brain has begun to shrink and, after a lifetime of accumulating knowledge, becomes less efficient at gathering and accessing knowledge. And then comes the 70s and 80s, when the risk of developing dementia increases with age, reaching 50 percent by age 85. Along with aging, many researchers believe that lifestyle—good or bad--contributes to dementia. Good news for self-helpers. * * * Clearly, brain function doesn’t have to hit bottom in the 70s and 80s. Some older adults retain excellent cognitive function well into their 70s, 80s--and 90s, and perform as well or better than younger adults. (See Google) A law professor friend tells us that a colleague of his teaches a full load of classes—at 95. Inspiring! What can we do to stay sharp longer? Bolstering Brain Function While we can’t halt brain change, we can make the most of our genetic potential. Regular exercise tops the list of brain function optimizers. A simple illustration is how getting up and moving around during the day helps generate new ideas—happens to me repeatedly. Sitting still slows down everything, including the brain. In 1991, researchers at Tufts University reported that exercise (strength and aerobic) leads the way to a healthy and rewarding old age: https://www.cbass.com/Biomarkers.htm That includes brain function. Exercise pumps blood to the brain and encourages the growth of new brain cells and connections. See Miracle-Grow for the Brain: https://www.cbass.com/Miracle-GroBrain.htm * * * Regular exercise also significantly reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and more. It tops the list of things we can do to stay healthy—in every way possible. You’ll find many more articles on the awesome power of exercise on this website, a surprising number dealing with brain function: https://www.cbass.com/fitness_health.htm and https://www.cbass.com/physiologicalfactors.htm * * * Eating wisely and maintaining a healthy weight are other brain boosters. If you eat the right things--berries, fish, and leafy green vegetables are three of the best for weight control and brain health--it's actually hard to overeat. Fruit and vegetables also help to counteract disease-causing free radicals throughout the body, including the brain. (Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells, causing illness and aging. They are linked to aging and a host of diseases.) Carol and I favor a balanced diet of unprocessed foods. See our FAQ on Processed or Unprocessed Foods? https://www.cbass.com/FAQ(10).htm You’ll find many more benefits of healthy eating in our Diet & Nutrition category: https://www.cbass.com/diet_nutrition.htm * * * That brings us to activities which influence brain function, mostly good and a few bad. We’ll start with a hybrid. Dancing is exercise with a strong overlay of brain function. Ninety-five-year-old Dick Van Dyke is a wonderful example. It takes plenty of brain power to command his flying feet. Similarly, challenging yourself drives the whole body, muscle and brain. Push yourself mentally or physically and your body will respond appropriately. Stay engaged with friends and events. Social interactions involve memory and focus, the same processes used in many cerebral tasks. For the brain, it’s like dealing with a constantly changing landscape. Use your brain in ways you enjoy: Read, write, do jigsaw puzzles, play poker… Whatever lights your fire. Another problem is hearing loss, which may contribute to memory and thinking problems. Don't hesitate to get a hearing aid. Use it or lose it. * * * You can also slow brain function and speed aging. You’ll have lots of company. Perhaps less now than when the downside was less well known. Heavy alcohol use and smoking increase the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. If you don’t drink, don’t start now. That said, there is some evidence that moderate drinking may be beneficial to the brain. (I wouldn’t bet on it.) Smoking can speed up brain aging and encourage formulation of plaques that contribute to dementia. You’ll find many more details in a September 8, 2021, piece on WELL STATED: https://www.canyonranch.com/well-stated/post/how-your-brain-changes-with-age/ An older piece by Susan Pinker for the Wall Street Journal reports on a study suggesting that we get slower and wiser with age: https://susanpinker.com/how-intelligence-shifts-with-age/ “You can teach an old dog new tricks,” Pinker concludes. My Take I feel pretty good about my brain function. Good but not great. As expected for someone my age, my short term memory is lousy. I head off to do something and forget what by the time I get there. It usually comes to me, but takes a while. On the other hand, my long term memory is pretty darn good. I surprise myself at the things I remember, some as far back as my grade school years. Names of people in high school that I barely knew, and the how and why of things that happened decades ago. I’m also good at connecting ideas, in my writing and elsewhere. You can see it above, when I bring in related pieces I wrote years ago. I communicate regularly with friends from all over the world. I almost always recognize them as someone who has written before, and have yet to find myself wanting for words. I challenge myself to find new things to write about every month. So far, so good. I always find something that interests me--and hopefully our visitors. * * * I have a wonderful life. No one can tell me what to do—except for Carol. Interest in my active lifestyle grows with every passing year. A visitor recently told me that I’m the best at what I do. Others may do as well, but no one documents it like I do. While I’m feeling my age more, I’m doing my best to keep going mentally and physically. Pretty much what the experts recommend—if it suits me. (I dance only if I have to. Carol learned to dance from her brother and is very good.) The spotlight keeps me going day after day.