Onset of memory loss from aging can be slowed down by exercising your brain
Getting older is unavoidable, but falling apart mentally or physically is not. The biological mind-body connection becomes more important as you age. After all, a sound mind won’t do you much good if your body fails.
Loss of memory or cognitive decline shows up in the little things first. You have a harder time calling to mind the names of people and places, you have something at the tip of your tongue but just can’t remember what it is, you go into a room to get something and can’t remember what it was. The prefrontal cortex, which is your search engine for your memory, can’t call it up. Everyone has this happen at some point in their life. When this happens, the hippocampus kicks in to provide other associations to try to jog your memory, but those names and places which used to come easily become more difficult.
Brain-function research shows that as you age the cells throughout your body gradually lose their ability to adapt to stress. In the brain, when neurons get worn down from cellular stress, synapses erode, which eventually severs connections. Dendrites physically wither, and you start losing a signal here or there. Losing a signal here or there isn’t such a big deal at first, because the brain is designed to compensate by rerouting information around dead patches in the network and recruiting other areas to help with trafficking. The good news is your brain is a social network; it thrives on making new connections and is constantly rewiring itself and adapting – provided there’s enough stimulation to spur the growth of new neurons.
Memory is possible because of your neurons. Neurons are electrically excitable cells in the nervous system that process and transmit information. Neurons never actually touch each other. They reach toward each other across a gap (synapse) with their axons and dendrites (tiny hair-like filaments that project out).
With that thumbnail sketch, it’s time to dig into practical applications that can help you with age-proofing your memory. In the book, Age-Proofing Your Memory by Dr. Arlene Taylor, PhD, and Dr. Sharlet Briggs, PhD, they encourage you to think of exercises and information as “fun education” that can help you delay the onset of symptoms of aging and slow down any tendency toward memory loss – especially intelligent/creative memory.
You no doubt have heard of the importance of physical exercise for building muscles, conditioning the heart and lungs. It turns out that moving your muscles produces proteins that travel through the bloodstream and into the brain, where it plays a pivotal role in the mechanisms of your highest thought process. Exercise is said to set the stage for learning.
Any intellectually challenging activity is believed to stimulate dendritic growth, which adds to the neural connection in the brain. The brain thrives on novelty. Learn something new by taking classes, hanging out with smart people or visiting a new place. Play games that make new connections between ideas (e.g., an orange can be used as a candle holder, a ball, etc). Do simple math calculations as quickly as you are able, always trying to increase your speed. Read aloud for ten minutes every day. Solve all types of puzzles, moving from easy to more difficult to stimulate your brain.