Your brain is incredible. About 100 billion nerve cells work together to support agility and speed of thought.
But like the rest of your body, your brain may not be as energetic as you get a little older. Maybe you have to write something down, or you forget about meetings, or you can’t follow a conversation or action on TV without straining.
Fortunately, you can train your brain.
The keys to our nervous system are gray and white matter.”
Hermundur Sigmundsson, Professor of Psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
Roughly speaking, gray matter consists of nerve cells—or neurons—and dendrites, while white matter provides connections between cells (myelinated axons) and facilitates the speed of transmission and distribution of signals.
Three factors contribute to good brain health
A recent journal article Brain Sciences brings together much of what we know from previous research on brain health. The researchers have gone to great lengths to be thorough in their theoretical perspective paper and provide 101 links to articles on how to keep our gray and white matter in shape.
“If you want to keep your brain in top shape, there are three factors,” says Sigmundsson.
These factors are:
- To be social.
- Having strong interests. Learn new things and don’t shy away from new challenges.
This is probably the biggest challenge for many of us. Your body becomes lazy if you sit on your butt too much. Unfortunately, the same goes for the brain.
“An active lifestyle helps to develop the central nervous system and counteract brain aging,” say Sigmundsson and his colleagues.
Therefore, it is important not to get stuck in the chair. It takes effort and there is no way around it. If you have a sedentary job, you go to school or after work, you need to get active, including physically.
Some of us are happiest alone or with just a few people, and we know that “hell is other people,” to loosely paraphrase writer-philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. (Although his version was, admittedly, a bit more complicated.) But you’ll have to toughen up in this regard.
“Relationships and interactions with other people contribute to a number of complex biological factors that can prevent the brain from slowing down,” says Sigmundsson.
Being with other people, for example through conversation or physical contact, keeps the brain working well.
This last point may have something to do with your personality, but if you’ve read this far, chances are you already have the necessary foundation and are probably ready to learn.
“Passion or a strong interest in something can be a crucial driving factor that motivates us to learn new things. Over time, this affects the development and maintenance of our neural networks,” says Sigmundsson.
Stay interesting. Don’t give up and just let things take their course all the time. You’re never too old to do something you’ve never done before. Maybe it’s time to learn to play a new musical instrument.
Use it or lose it
Sigmundsson collaborated with graduate student Benjamin H. Diebendahl and associate professor Simona Grassini of the University of Stavanger on the comprehensive article.
Thus, their research shows a similar picture for the brain and the body. You have to train your brain so it doesn’t fall apart. “Use it or lose it” as they say.
“Brain development is closely related to lifestyle. Exercise, relationships and passion help develop and maintain the core structures of our brain as we age,” says Sigmundsson.
So these three factors are some of the keys to maintaining a good quality of life – and hopefully aging well.
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Link to the magazine:
Hermundur Sigmundsson, Benjamin H. Diebendahl, and Simone Grassini. Movement, relationships, and passion in physiological and cognitive aging of the brain. Brain Sciences. https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3425/12/9/1122/pdf. DOI: 10.3390/brainsci12091122