What comes to mind when you read the words active aging? Do you immediately envision someone working out? Or playing golf? Whatever image came to mind for you, I am willing to bet that it involved someone being physically active. I’m here to share with you that active aging also involves moving your brain! As you age, you want to focus your efforts not only on protecting your physical health but also your mental and cognitive well-being. Your brain has the amazing capability of adapting and changing in response to life experiences and you want to preserve it. The brain’s capacity to adapt and modify is one we must not take for granted. If you want to help your brain process information, store & remember information, be more creative then you will want to start with looking at your current lifestyle.
Your Lifestyle Impacts Your Brain
When you hit a stage of life where you have a stable family life and a flourishing career, you can become comfortable with your hard-earned lifestyle. You stop actively seeking opportunities to learn new skills, you make it to the gym twice a week on a good week and you enjoy any opportunity to binge watch your new favorite series, with your favorite snacks of course. These behaviors become your new lifestyle and one that sticks with you for years ahead and not without consequences. When you allow yourself to become too comfortable and you stop challenging your body and your mind, beyond day-to-day living, you start to experience declines which can affect your brain, your body, your mind, and your overall health.
Luckily, the brain is capable of learning new habits and modifying behaviors, replacing them with new habits that help promote brain health. If you have ever attempted to start a new habit, you know how difficult it can be. Exposure to a new behavior once or twice isn’t going to produce life changing results. The more frequently you partake in a thought or a behavior the stronger the new neural pathway becomes. The stronger the neural pathway becomes, the easier and more natural your new behavior becomes. You can also weaken neural pathways by not engaging in behaviors and thoughts. As you begin to focus your thoughts on new, healthy behaviors and patterns you will weaken the neural pathways associated with unhealthy behaviors. So how do you promote neuroplasticity you may be wondering?
One of the most effective ways to promote neuroplasticity is through your daily habits and routines. Your lifestyle has an impact on your brain’s structure and function, as well as cognitive function which refers to our mental processes like learning, memory, thinking, reasoning, problem solving, decision making and attention span, to name a few. You can help promote neuroplasticity and optimal brain health by engaging in regular physical activity, prioritizing sleep, learning new skills, maintain a healthy diet, social engagement and managing stress. Which area could you use the most work?
Simple, daily actions can have a major impact on your brain health. By learning a new skill or activity you are stimulating the process of neurogenesis. Learning a new language, at any stage in life, can actually help slow mental decline. Challenge your brain to think in a new way and promote neuroplasticity this weekend by trying a new activity. Prioritizing sleep is another seemingly simple thing, but good quality sleep is essential for preserving brain health and cognitive function. The National Institutes of Health published findings that people who slept 6 or less hours each night during their 50s and 60s had an increased risk of developing dementia later in life.
Neuroplasticity and Happiness
Neuroplasticity also helps explains how you can rewire your brain to be happier. One of the most uncomfortable realizations you can make about yourself is the negative state of your own thoughts. At some point in your life, you start to realize that you aren’t as happy as you would like to be… but wait, there’s good news! You just learned that the brain has the amazing ability to strengthen neural pathways that serve you and weaken neural pathways that don’t serve you, meaning you have the ability to do something about your negative thought patterns. If you are aware of your negative thoughts and self-talk, you can recognize when you are doing it and disengage. The longer the “conversation” goes on in your head, the longer you entertain a thought, the stronger you are making that response or pattern, reinforcing it. By practicing activities like noticng the good, you start to rewire or strengthen new neural pathways that promote positive emotions and greater levels of happiness and well-being.
If you need some guidance on creating a brain healthy lifestyle, we got you covered! Join us for one of our live workshops where we take a deeper look at lifestyle behaviors, how they impact our brain health and cognitive function and what you can do about it.