Article at a glance
- Age related brain atrophy can negatively impact memory, cognitive function, and increase your risk for cognitive decline. This brain atrophy, though, is not an inevitable part of aging.
- Studies show that adding in mental stimulating activities such as education, yoga, puzzles, or learning a new skill or language, helps increase brain plasticity and maintain brain volume.
- The Global Council on Brain Health recommends incorporating cognitively stimulating activities into your routine daily.
Mental health decline is not an inevitable part of aging. It's possible to keep your brain sharp, your memory intact, and your intellect soaring . Studies show that some individuals at age 80 have the same volume of brain structures associated with cognitive function as they did in their 30s. How do they do it? Along with a healthy diet and regular physical activity, research suggests that mental stimulation is essential to keeping your brain fit at any age.
Brain atrophy is a normal part of aging. The brain's volume declines with age at a rate of around 5% per decade after age 40. Moreover, atrophy of specific regions, such as the medial temporal lobe, is a pathologic hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. This loss in brain mass can negatively impact memory, cognitive function, and increase your risk for cognitive decline. Adding mental activities to your routine, though, can help save your brain.
To improve cognitive function, the aging brain must have plasticity. Plasticity refers to the ability to change the brain's structure or function in a sustained manner in response to external stimulation. Research shows that brain plasticity continues to be present at any age, and even in those with existing cognitive impairment. Behaviors found to protect from age-related decline and delay Alzheimer's disease progression are based on cognitively challenging experiences such as education, engaging work, and maintaining an active and social lifestyle. These training types can lead to both increases in neural volume and improvements in neural activity, which both provide the health benefits found from cognitive stimulation over time.
You don't have to be in college to have these types of experiences, though. Cognitive stimulation entails any activity or exercise that challenges a person’s ability to think. Activities can include yoga, gardening, learning a new language, picking up a new instrument, reading fiction, and completing puzzles. Research has demonstrated that those participating in cognitively stimulating activities exhibit significantly reduced brain atrophy rates, a reduction in cognitive decline by 52%, decelerated memory decline, and improved performance on cognitive tests.
The Global Council on Brain Health ( GCBH) recommends that people begin incorporating cognitive stimulating activities into their daily routines. If you are already participating in some, try adding a few new ones or increasing the difficulty level over time. What have you done to train your brain today?