Overview: Three factors have been identified that keep your brain at its best.
Your brain is pretty fantastic. About 100 billion nerve cells work together to keep you agile and fast in your thinking.
But like the rest of the body, your brain may not be as powerful as you get older. You may find yourself writing things down, forgetting appointments, or not being able to fully follow the conversation or action on TV without making an effort.
Fortunately, it is also possible to train your brain.
“The keys to our nervous system are the gray and white matter,” said Hermundur Sigmundsson, a professor in NTNU’s Department of Psychology.
The gray matter roughly consists of the nerve cells – or neurons – and dendrites, while the white matter provides the contacts between the cells (myelinated axons) and contributes to the transmission rate and distribution of the signals.
Three factors contribute to good brain health
A recent article in the magazine brain sciences brings together much of what we know from previous brain health research. The researchers went to great lengths to be thorough in their theoretical perspective, providing 101 references to articles on how to keep our gray and white matter in shape.
“Three factors stand out if you want to keep your brain at its best,” says Sigmundsson.
These factors are:
- Being social.
- Have 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 gets lazy if you sit on your butt too much. Unfortunately, the same also applies to the brain.
“An active lifestyle helps to develop the central nervous system and prevent brain aging,” said Sigmundsson and his colleagues.
So it is important not to get stuck in your chair. This requires effort and there is no getting around it. If you have a sedentary profession, go to school or finish working, you have to activate yourself, also physically.
Some of us are happiest alone or with just a few people, and we know that “other people are hell” – if we loosely transcribe the phrase of writer-philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. (Although his version was admittedly a bit more involved.) But in this regard, you have to arm yourself.
“Relationships with other people and interacting with them contribute to a number of complex biological factors that can prevent the brain from slowing down,” Sigmundsson says.
Being together with other people, for example through conversation or physical contact, supports good brain function.
This last point may have something to do with your personality, but if you’ve read this far, chances are you already have the basics you need and are probably willing to learn.
“Passion, or having a strong interest in something, can be the decisive driving factor that drives us to learn new things. Over time, this has implications for the development and maintenance of our neural networks,” says Sigmundsson.
Stay curious. Don’t give up and always let everything run its course. You’re never too old to do something you’ve never done before. Perhaps now is the time to learn to play a new musical instrument.
Use it or lose it
Sigmundsson collaborated with master’s student Benjamin H. Dybendal and associate professor Simone Grassini at the University of Stavanger on the comprehensive article.
Their research thus paints a similar picture for the brain as it does for the body. You have to train your brain so that it doesn’t spoil. “Use it or lose it” as the saying goes.
“Brain development is closely linked to lifestyle. Exercise, relationships and passion help develop and maintain the basic structures of our brains as we age,” says Sigmundsson.
So these three factors provide some of the keys to maintaining a good quality of life – and hopefully – aging well.
About this brain health research news
Author: Steinar Brandslet
Contact: Steinar Brandslet – NTNU
Image: The image is in the public domain
Original research: Open access.
“Movement, relationship and passion in brain physiological and cognitive aging” by Hermundur Sigmundsson et al. brain sciences
Movement, relationship and passion in brain physiological and cognitive aging
The aim of the present paper was to present important factors for keeping the basic structures of one’s brain function intact, ie the gray and white matter.
Several evidences have shown that movement, relationship and passion are central factors for the maintenance of the neural system in the gray and white matter during aging.
An active lifestyle has been shown to contribute to the development of the central nervous system and to counteract the aging of the brain.
Interpersonal relationships and interactions have been shown to contribute to complex biological factors that benefit cognitive resilience against decline.
Moreover, the current scientific literature suggests that passion, strong interest, may be the driving factor that motivates individuals to learn new things, thus influencing the development and maintenance of the neural functional network over time.
The current theoretical perspective paper aims to convey several key messages: (1) brain development is critically influenced by lifestyle; (2) physical training allows one to develop and maintain brain structures as they age, and may be one of the keys to a good quality of life as an older person; (3) diverse stimuli are a key factor in maintaining brain structures; (4) movement, relationship and passion are key elements to contrast the loss of the brain’s gray and white matter.