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Do you find yourself thinking about your brain every day? Your thoughts may not seem directly related to your brain. Yet, when you step back and reflect on each day’s musings, there it is! The brain connection shows up when you:
- Wonder if you put the grocery list on your phone,
- Missed a meeting while fretting over a report, and
- Wonder what your older age health will be like as you face another birthday.
All that adds up to one more thing to think about. It’s time to explore ways to keep your brain young. Chances are you’re looking for those that are tried, true, and easy to fit into your busy days.
The good news is that there are many things that contribute to brain health. That includes quick steps to keep your brain resilient and youthful. This article focuses on what to do, rather than what to avoid. A simple shift to looking at positive steps is good for your gray matter.
“Actively promoting continual brain development is one—and a very important—approach to keeping the brain young. It is, in fact, the only known preventive approach.” Psychology Today, 2022
1. Boost Your Brain’s Plasticity
A lot of what you’re about to read boosts gray matter health, those brain cells that you want to thrive for decades to come. One way for them to do so is by taking steps to build your brain’s connectivity.
- That’s how the structures and many millions of nerve cells in your brain communicate with each other.
- This activity builds and sustains gray matter, helping you to gain brain plasticity.
- Your brain becomes more alert, responsive, and ready for years of youthful health.
- It’s good to know that you can begin to boost your brain’s plasticity at any age.
2. Protect Your Brain With Antioxidants
You’ve likely read something about antioxidants and how they protect your body from free radicals.
Simply put, the result is a reduction in cell damage and inflammation, helping you to steer clear of:
- Joint pain and lack of flexibility,
- Heart and circulation concerns, and
- Diabetes, plus other chronic illnesses.
Antioxidants do a lot to protect your brain with their “neuroprotective” actions, meaning that all those brain nerves are receiving special care. The short story on how this happens comes because of:
- Nutritional choices,
- Becoming more active,
- Doing things you love, and
- Creating a new life outlook.
The next points offer insights on what to do to boost your brain’s neuroprotection. Yes, these are some of the many ways to keep your brain young.
3. Play On With Music!
Listening to music or playing an instrument is fun and entertaining. Added to that:
- It exercises your brain in complex and incomparable ways.
- Imagine doing something you enjoy that’s also good for your brain.
- Music helps your mood, sleep quality, and circulatory system, as it helps to balance blood pressure.
“Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next. You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it.” - Markham Public Library
4. Get Active
This step is a good follow-up to music. After all, dancing is an uplifting activity, whether you’re line dancing, delighting in the tango, or doing your own thing.
- Dancing is a form of physical exercise, the stuff that helps your brain grow and support gray matter.
- There are many other forms of exercise to try out, from yoga and tai chi to Nordic walking, shooting hoops, walking, swimming, and mountaineering.
- Some are activities you want to do for a stretch of time, like canoeing a river.
- Balance longer activities with short burst exercises to get a nice brain boost.
In short, as stated in a scientific review on the effects of physical activity on brain health, researchers noted that physical activity “is a way of maintaining not only a healthy body, but also a healthy mind, at any age.” Genes, 2019
5. Embrace Optimism
It seems as though some people are born optimists. They’re continually upbeat and wearing their rose-colored glasses. Really, haven’t they noticed the days that are gloomy, inside and out? The answer is: “Sure they have!” They may have had more gray days than they liked. Yet, they embrace the benefits of being optimistic. Chances are they’ve learned how to shift from pessimism and being anxious to hopefully planning your future.
An article about an optimism study describes how “optimism may ultimately protect someone from anxiety by stimulating changes in the orbitofrontal cortex. It appears that someone can create an upward spiral by altering the gray matter volume of the OFC.” Psychology Today, 2015
The “upward spiral” is much like ascending a narrow winding stairway in a lighthouse. That requires one to be deliberate while looking forward to the view at the top. That intentionality can take many forms, some of them outward, including:
- Giving other people credit where it’s due,
- Planning for the future while releasing past regrets,
- Expressing gratitude,
- Deliberately shrugging things off that are small and petty,
- Giving yourself a pat on the back, and
- Reaching out to those things that bring meaning to your life.
This is what you’ll gain as you practice optimism:
- A larger, orbitofrontal cortex that’s associated with reduced levels of anxiety,
- Improvements in life and sleep quality, and
- A lifespan greater than that of pessimists.
6. Feed Your Being
You’re an individual, unique unto yourself. The question is: what feeds you? Sure, there are the nutritional aspects to touch upon. Added to that are others that bring joy to your life while helping your brain to stay young. Here are some to consider:
- Relationships, especially those that are supportive. mutual, and fuel good feelings.
- Time in nature is associated with improvements in memory-related functions. Less than an hour does it!
- Learning something new increases cognitive abilities, especially when taking short breaks during each session. This helps to encode short-term memories, moving them to long-term storage.
- Engaging in creative pursuits boosts brain plasticity by reducing stress.
- Nutrition and hydration promote antioxidant protection, such as when you eat fatty fish, include turmeric in your diet, enjoy bits of dark chocolate, and keep the water flowing.
The effects of humor go on and on. As you laugh, your brain releases neuropeptides that protect you from stress. What a wonderful way to keep your brain young!
Supplement the steps you’re taking to keep your brain young with: