In the past few years, it has become clear that you can make new brain neurons starting in your 20s and continuing well into old age, in effect rewiring the brain with new parts as the older parts wear out. There are steps you can take right now to preserve, protect and enhance your gray matter.
A healthy body really does mean a healthy mind. Researchers have found that the areas of the brain that are stimulated through exercise are associated with memory and learning. Exercise boosts brainpower by stimulating formation of new brain cells (neurons). Also, exercise strengthens connections between those cells.
Physical exercise may also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Several studies have confirmed that regular physical activity reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia as you age. Debbie Baker, Community Relations Director at Weatherly Inn has observed that seniors who participate in daily exercise programs benefit physically, emotionally, and socially.
For many people, after graduating from high school or college, their pursuit of new knowledge bottoms out over time. They may be masters at what they do, but they aren’t learning new things. But there is clear evidence that learning and mental stimulation produce favorable changes in the brain. Researchers believe that intellectual activity plays a neuroprotective role against dementia.
As you continue to learn and challenge yourself, your brain continues to grow. Says Sarah Idstrom of Franke Tobey Jones: “This helps your brain store and retrieve information more easily, no matter what your age.”
How can you challenge yourself? Scientists agree that anything that is new and expands your knowledge base will be effective, such as learning to play a musical instrument, starting a new hobby, learning a new language or simply cooking a new dish. If you let your brain be idle, it’s not going to be in the best health.
The seeds of creativity live in everyone and, if nurtured, blossom throughout the lifespan. Martha Graham danced until she was 75; Pablo Picasso painted in his 80s; Antonio Stradivari was making violins at 92. Singer Tony Bennett, in his 80s, has become as well-known for his oil paintings (under his birth name Anthony Benedetto) as for his legendary songs. Although most of us aren’t Picasso, there is growing recognition of the vital relationship between creative expression and healthy aging.
The healing powers of imagination in people with Alzheimer’s disease are also evident.
Dr. Gene Cohen, noted researcher on the human brain and aging, has said that “art is like chocolate to the brain.” He has put forth a number of fascinating, groundbreaking scientific theories suggesting that creative activity can significantly improve the mind-body connection as we age, improving long-term health and well-being.
What this means for all of us, and particularly for seniors, is that just like an investment of money that pays dividends over time, an investment in time spent exercising, learning and enjoying creative pursuits yields increased brainpower and memory retention.