‘Use it or lose it’ is not just another casual one-liner meant for half-serious social media debates. It finds its roots in science, and actually refers to your brain – suggesting that much like any other muscle in your body – the most complex organ too is at its healthiest when in regular and productive use. Stop exercising it and you’ve well and truly invited the process of degeneration.
Brain deterioration is a common, natural, age-related condition, and perhaps one that is most dreaded by the elderly. Real stories of people forgetting large chunks of their own lives, or becoming incapable of carrying out the most basic of everyday functions, evoke a frightening possibility. But the good news is that the condition may not be inevitable. Research shows that if you’ve kept your brain busy – right through childhood and old age – there’s a good chance you’ve staved off conditions like dementia and memory loss.
Confused? Here’s How it Works:
With age, your brain keeps changing – as do your mental functions. Like everything else in your body, a gradual decline in its capabilities is only natural. But what’s interesting here is that you can actually control – to an extent – the speed of deterioration. While about one-third of mental decline in senior citizens could be attributed to physical irregularities in the brain (for e.g. damage from stroke), another ten percent is directly related to one’s mental activity – suggesting, that your lifestyle and how busy you’ve kept your mind plays as big a part in mental deterioration as physical irregularities in the brain. Scary, but true!
How to Keep Your Brain Busy, Young and Hearty:
Exercise Your Brain:
This is something you will not hear enough of! And that’s only because it is perhaps the most significant way to strengthen your brain. By exercise, we mean anything that stimulates mental activity and requires you to think, apply, or even get involved in activities requiring manual dexterousness – like art and craft. But the catch here is to not get stuck with only one kind of activity. Keep experimenting with as many different mentally stimulating activities as you possibly can – and your brain will thank you for the mental gymnastics! Here are some of your options:
- Read – Reading can, it is said, reduce chances of dementia by almost half. If you find it hard to concentrate for long durations, spread out the process over the length of a day. To make it easier, start with short stories.
- Puzzles, Board Games, Crosswords – With age, this is not only fun but imperative. Whether you’re on your own with Sudoku or a crossword; with friends over a game of cards; or getting challenged by your grandchildren over a memory game – spending even ten minutes a day in games improves your brain health considerably. It also helps keep Alzheimer’s away.
- Keep Learning – The truly young are those who never stop learning! Choose a subject that’s always been close to your heart and consider studying it. Read, listen, observe, apply – there is no better way to push the limits of your brain than to gift it a new subject to master. Of course, it’s never too late!
- Let There Be Music – Learning a musical instrument is said to have created magical results in the adult brain. You don’t need a degree, or even a ear for music! Enjoy the process!
Also Read: Are you left brained or right brained?
2. Pick Up the Pen:
Writing by hand has strangely become a thing of the past. As keyboard-fanatics, we struggle with our handwriting today. What we don’t realise is how harmful this might be for us in the long run. Writing – physically, actually helps improve our memory, our capacity to think, and even our language skills. So whether it is starting with a list of must-dos, or a paragraph on your day, or graduating to perhaps some childhood memory – do pick up that pen!
Get Up, Get Going:
When we say indulge in physical exercise, we don’t obviously mean pumping muscles or lifting dumbbells. But a fact that’s been handed down the ages is how everyone – irrespective of age – should get at least thirty minutes of physical exercise every day. Apart from the obvious benefits to your physical being, this also ensures enough oxygen-rich blood supply to the brain, thereby reducing chances of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It also initiates the creation of new nerve cells – helping the brain’s efficiency and adaptability.
Watch That Plate:
What you eat is what you are. Eating healthy is not just about looking or feeling good. Fried food, saturated fat, fizzy drinks are as bad for your body as they are for your brain. Science has proven how a well-measured balance of nutritive food is imperative for a healthy brain. So, stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meat and fish, cereal and grains.
Keep Your Friends Close:
One of the easiest ways to keep a brain young and sharp is to socialise with friends. Whether a laid-back catching up with your inner circle, doing community work, or indulging in social group activities – interacting with people, sharing experiences, and generally having a good time can do wonders to an aging brain.
Make Sure You Are Happy:
You will be surprised at how big a role your emotions play on your brain’s overall health. If you are anxious, depressed, lonely or even sleep-deprived, chances are, you won’t do well in your cognitive behaviour tests. It is also a false notion that with age one needs to sleep less. A good night’s sleep – at least seven to eight hours a day – is an absolute necessity, this is the time your brain needs to process, restore and rejuvenate.
The key to ensure a healthy brain and to lower considerably, or even reverse, mental deterioration, is engagement. Work out a schedule that lets you keep your mind mentally, physically and socially engaged, and you have already won the battle against aging!