[Apr. 25, 2023: RS Shavit, The Brighter Side of News]
Religiosity and spirituality could be mapped to specific brain circuits. (CREDIT: Getty Images)
The human brain is a remarkable organ, consisting of approximately 100 billion interconnected neurons that work tirelessly to ensure our mental agility and acuity. However, as we age, the brain's capabilities may begin to decline, leading to difficulties such as forgetfulness, reduced ability to follow conversations or television programs, and an increased need to write things down.
Fortunately, just like any other part of the body, the brain can be exercised to maintain and improve its functioning. Various activities, including mental exercises, physical exercise, and a healthy lifestyle, can help keep the brain healthy and vibrant.
Therefore, if you find yourself struggling with memory or cognitive issues, don't despair. There are plenty of things you can do to keep your brain in shape and maintain your mental sharpness well into old age. By engaging in activities that challenge your brain, you can continue to lead a fulfilling and active life.
“The keys to our nervous system are the grey and white matter,” says Hermundur Sigmundsson, a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) Department of Psychology.
In broad terms, the grey matter of the brain is comprised of neurons and dendrites, while the white matter facilitates communication between these cells through myelinated axons, ultimately enhancing the speed and efficiency of signal transmission throughout the brain.
Good brain health
In a recent issue of Brain Sciences, an article summarizes the findings of numerous studies in the field of brain health. The authors of the theoretical perspective paper meticulously compiled 101 references to offer a comprehensive guide on how to maintain the health of both grey and white matter in the brain.
“Three factors stand out if you want to keep your brain at its best,” says Sigmundsson.
These factors are:
Having strong interests. Learn new things and don’t hold back from new challenges.
Staying active and physically fit can be challenging for many people, particularly those with sedentary lifestyles. Spending long hours sitting can cause the body to become inactive, which can have negative effects on the brain as well. According to Sigmundsson and his colleagues, an active lifestyle is essential for the development of the central nervous system and to counteract the ageing of the brain.
Therefore, it's important not to remain seated for extended periods of time. This requires conscious effort, and there's no way around it. Even if you have a desk job or attend school, you must make an effort to stay active, both physically and mentally. Getting up and moving around regularly is one of the most effective ways to stay active, as it gets your body moving and increases blood flow to the brain.
Regular exercise is also important for maintaining good health and preventing chronic diseases. Studies have shown that exercise can improve cognitive function, reduce the risk of depression and anxiety, and improve overall well-being. Additionally, exercise can help to prevent age-related decline in brain function, which is particularly important as we age.
For some individuals, solitude or being in the company of a small group of people brings the most joy. They may resonate with the sentiment expressed by writer-philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, who famously said, "Hell is other people." Although Sartre's version was more complex, the general idea remains the same. However, in this regard, one must prepare themselves mentally and emotionally.
“Relationships with other people, and interacting with them, contribute to a number of complex biological factors that can prevent the brain from slowing down,” says Sigmundsson.
Being with other people, such as through conversation or physical contact, supports good brain function.
It's possible that the final factor relates to your personality, but if you've made it this far, there's a good chance you already possess the required foundation and are open to learning more.
Stay curious. Don't give up and just let everything run its course the same way all the time. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)
“Passion, or having a strong interest in something, can be the decisive, driving factor that leads us to learn new things. Over time, this impacts the development and maintenance of our neural networks,” Sigmundsson says.
Maintaining curiosity and a sense of adventure can be crucial for personal growth and development. It's important not to resign yourself to the same routine day after day. You're never too old to try something new and exciting. Perhaps it's time to learn a new musical instrument and explore a completely different creative avenue.
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 paper.
Their research reveals that the same principle that applies to the body, "use it or lose it," also applies to the brain. In order to prevent decay, it's crucial to exercise your brain by engaging in activities that challenge it.
Sigmundsson emphasizes the importance of lifestyle in brain development. Physical exercise, relationships, and pursuing one's passions are key factors that help to develop and maintain the basic structures of the brain as we age.
By prioritizing these three factors, individuals can maintain a good quality of life and increase their chances of aging well.
For more science stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.
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