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Age Proofing Your Brain

Updated on March 25, 2020
John Iovine profile image

Science writer and experimenter. Conventionally published in science, technology, computers, personal development, health, & fitness.

Keeping our brains young with synapses firing efficiently is key to enjoying ourselves for our entire lifespan. Let’s explore techniques and strategies for doing just that.

Start an Exercise Program

I know, everyone hates this one. A true fountain of youth for both the body and brain.

The brain in young adults shrinks about 1.9 percent every 10 years. As one enters their 60s the rate of loss increases to about 1 percent per year. Shrinkage in gray matter is associated with cognitive decline.

Neuroimaging shows how resistance training and aerobic exercise prevents and reverses age-related loss of brain tissue (atrophy).

The volume improvements in gray and white brain tissue due to exercise were measured using a voxel-based morphometry. Exercise increases volume and improves cognitive performance and has a beneficial effect on neural plasticity. [1]

Source

How Much Exercise Is Enough?

Body weight exercise is simple and relatively easy to implement. Four 30 minutes sessions of moderate exercise per week. [2]

If you’re not exercising now, don’t try to jump start into performing 120 minutes of exercise per week. That is too much too soon and is the most likely a good plan to implement if you want to fail. You may do it for a few weeks, maybe a month? Instead, I recommend starting out slowly, performing one body weight exercise, less that 1 minute of time, seven days a week.

Exercise Seven Days a Week

What? You’re thinking I’ve always heard exercising 3–4 times a week is sufficient. That may be true, if you’re performing medium level workouts for 30–60 minutes 3–4 times a week. If so, you don’t need this exercise section, just skip over it.

Still here? Okay, let’s continue. You probably heard you don’t want to exercise the same muscle every day. I agree with that, so what we will do is a split routine. We will alternate upper body and lower body exercises on alternating days. On the odd seventh day in the week, you can focus on something other than upper and lower body exercise, like yoga, stretching, abdominals or walking.

What we’re doing here is starting a habit. And to create this habit you don’t want to be thinking is this my “on” day or my “off” day. And if it's my on day, maybe I can skip it today and double up on my next on day, hey its only 1 exercise, I can do both.

When To Exercise

First thing in the morning when you wake up. You’re doing one exercise. You don’t even need to get up any earlier to perform it. Why the morning? It’s before the day’s plans, obligations and return phone calls gobble up your time.

Which Exercise To Perform

There are many body weight exercises you can perform.

For upper body, you can choose a push up.
For lower body a squat.

As the days turns to weeks, you may want to perform more than one squat or one push-up. That’s the idea.

As the weeks turn to months, you may even want to add a second exercise to your upper body and lower routines. Yeah.

The key is to exercise consistently to build a habit and once established only then increase exercise time and intensity.

Forever

You may be thinking how long do you keep this exercise routine going? The answer is forever.

You can judge for yourself when to increase the time and intensity of your routine. My advice is to proceed slowly. As a guide post DO NOT increase the quantity of exercises, the time or intensity beyond what you feel comfortable doing for the rest of your life. Ask yourself, am I okay with doing this the rest of my life, if yes, move forward, if no, hold position. Feel free to move forward and backward if the increase doesn’t feel right. A maximum is 30 minutes a day.

Fun Exercise

Remember, exercise is NOT just lifting weights and running track. Any sport or activity that has you moving is a form of exercise like tennis and dancing.


Source

Meditation

Numerous studies show that meditation slows down brain atrophy, increases gray matter, improves mood, reduces stress and even increase the body’s immune response. What? Increases the body’s immune response, how did they figure that one out, I had to dig further. Researchers, (got to love scientists for their inventiveness) after an 8-week course in meditation for novices, vaccinated the mediators and control group (non mediators) with an influenza vaccine. The meditators had an increase in anti-body titers. Translation increased immune response. [3]

The key to meditation like so many other things is consistency. A few minutes of daily meditation can work wonders. Interestingly, as long as you attempt in earnest, meditation works whether or not you feel successful at the practice. It is the practice and not the perceived outcome.

Daily Five Minute Meditation Practice

Deep rhythmic breathing has many of the same benefits as meditation. So, its natural to combine the two into your practice.

1) Set a timer for five or six minutes. This way you do not have to distract yourself by checking the time.

2) Find a comfortable position, sitting or lying down. Yes, it could even be lying down. I don’t recommend lying down because it’s too easy to fall asleep. Not to worry, you have a timer set in case you do.

3) Relax your body. Do a body scan from your toes to the head, relax any parts that are tense. Sometimes it helps to flex or tense each body part and then relax.

4) Breathe. Focus on your breath. Take natural breaths. You can repeat a focus word in your mind like the word “In” for an inhale and “Out” for exhale. Choose your own words, One, Two, Blue, Green.

5) As you are breathing naturally and repeating your focus word(s), be conscious of your breath. Feel how your body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Feel the air entering and exiting your nostrils.

6) Your mind will wander. You’ll think about other things than what you are doing. When you become aware that your mind is wandering, GENTLY, the word is gently, bring your attention back to your breath. Repeat you focus word(s) again. Do not criticize yourself for losing focus, everyone does, its natural. Even for experience monks who have meditated for 20+ years lose focus. Granted experienced meditators can remain focused for longer periods of time.

Again, consistency is the key. As long as you enter this daily practice 4–5X a week, whether you believe your practice is working or not, it is, and you will reap the benefits.

I found that after a month of meditating, I became a little less reactive, I paused a moment before reacting.

Source

Yoga

I placed yoga after exercise and mediation because yoga embodies both practices. By encompassing both practices it provides benefits to the mind and body associated with exercise and meditation. [4]

There are many types of yoga, Hatha yoga being one of the more popular styles. [5]

You can begin a low cost entry yoga practice with a phone app, book, YouTube videos or DVD. Instructors are valuable. I would recommend joining a yoga class. Not having an instructor to guide and point out what you may be doing incorrectly will slow your progress.

I have written a more extensively on the benefits of yoga here. [6]

B Vitamins

Two B Vitamins appear instrumental in maintaining healthy brain volume, B6 and B12. Not only do the B vitamins slow brain shrinkage, they slow brain shrinkage in the areas affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

One mechanism by which this benefit may be happening is that the B vitamins lower participants’ plasma homocysteine levels. Elevated homocysteine levels cause brain shrinkage and dementia.

The studies used the following vitamins, folic acid 0.8 mg, B6 at 20 mg and B12 at 0.5 milligrams. [6] [7] [8]

Obesity

A high body fat percentage appears to accelerate brain aging and atrophy. In addition to the hormonal damage, excessive fat causes you can add an aging brain to the list. [9] [10]

Reduce excessive fat to a healthy level. Reducing body fat usually encompasses both diet and exercise. And by diet, I mean nutrition, not a food restrictive diet. Reducing body fat follows the 80/20 rule. It’s 80 percent what you eat and 20 percent exercise.

To learn more about body fat read “The Skinny on Fat”. [11]

Nutrition and body weight exercises are beyond the scope of this article, but as I post articles on these topics I will come back and add them here.

Declutter

Decluttering your environment. Clutter for me is distracting. It’s the dozen things I left un-done, books left open, papers piled, projects started and semi-abandoned. I refused to put them away in fear of forgetting about the task or project they represent.

But when a critical mass point is reached I’m forced to declutter. When every single square inch of my desk is covered, I’m stalled, I can’t move forward. I work out of desperation. I start at the top, working through layers, like an archeologist digging. I’m not uncovering a fossil, I’m looking for the surface of my desk.

To clear my space my first step is to throw out as much obsolete material as possible. Scraps of paper with (still) useful notes I copy into Evernote. I organize papers into project folders and file them. Books go back on shelves, tools returned, and things put away. This takes hours. Organization isn’t quick or easy. I’ve burned more than a few brain cells organizing and deciding what to keep and what to throw away. But I eventually clear my space.

When I enter my office space, I immediately feel more focused. I like seeing my open, orderly desk. I don’t feel the pull of those dozens of projects.

Decluttering the environment helps declutter your mind. We all want to make better use of our time and make better decisions. Decluttering will do both.

A highly rated book on decluttering is Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Journal — Gratitude

Psychological studies have determined that people who keep a journal where gratitude is expressed are happier and less stressed.[12]

Other studies are investigating gratitude journal to help teenagers manage their Type 1 diabetes.[13]

I have purchased dozens of journals. Unfortunately, none of them provided exactly what I’m looking for in a journal. A combination of goal setting, habit tracking and yes gratitude.

In my decluttering sweep I uncovered a small treasure. This can happen when decluttering. Four page design sketches I created representing pages for a comprehensive journal. This design addressed what I felt was lacking in existing journals and reduced or removed what I felt was either excessive or unnecessary. Whether I’ll continue to work these papers into a published journal remains to be seen. But uncovering lost or forgotten work is another advantage of decluttering.

Brain Games

There are brain games that advertise themselves to improve cognitive function. A few of them have been taken to court by the FTC and ordered to pay fines for deceptive advertising. [14]

I will not enter the debate on the usefulness of Brain Games to improve cognitive function or slow-down age-related cognitive decline. Some will say yes, others will say no. Both will point to studies.

Learn Something New

I propose a simple question, why bother with games if your purpose is to boost cognitive function? Instead, apply yourself to learning something new. Now that to me is a better use of time.

Learning something new and challenging will boost your cognitive function. And the best thing is, it can be anything you find an interest in; painting, learning a new language, math, dancing, learning to play a musical instrument, yoga, etc.

Sleep

Sleep is critical. One cannot keep a healthy mind and brain without enough sleep. Sleep deprivation studies bear this out. Loss of sleep is associated with poorer decision making, a loss of appetite control with an increase in hunger (bad combo). Changes in glucose and insulin tolerance that lead to increases in obesity and diabetes. [A]

Sleep Is When The Brain Removes Waste

Sleep as it turns out is the brain’s waste removal system. The glymphatic system removes harmful amyloid proteins that accumulate in the brain. When you sleep the ISF space around your brain increases allowing for the transportation of toxic waste out of the brain.[15] Excessive amyloid proteins are linked to neurological conditions like Alzheimers.

In the short term, the mild and chronic lack of getting a full night’s sleep may inhibit the complete flushing out all these accumulated brain wastes and be responsible for the effects of sleep deprivation. For instance, the higher rate of obesity among people who average less than seven hours of sleep a night.

Body Repair and Muscle Building

Some people working out at the gym believe they are building muscle at the gym. This is not so. Muscle building occurs during after the gym and during sleep. The restorative process repairs the body and build muscle. Critical to this process is the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1).

About 80 percent of HGH is released during sleep, and it’s the HGH that triggers IGF-1 secretion.

Pro-Tip:

IGF-1 uses the same receptor sites as insulin. If you eat carbohydrates before sleep, your blood sugar rises, the pancreas releases insulin. The insulin binds to its receptor sites blunting the positive effects of IGF-1.

Supplements

There are many supplements on the market that claim to boost cognitive ability.

I have found two supplements that I believe are of interest, PQQ (Pyrroloquinoline quinone) and Hericium erinaceus.

PQQ is taken in doses of 20 mg per day. Studies in adults show improvement in cognitive functions specifically in attention and working memory. PQQ also enhances mitochondria functions.[16] [17] [18]

Hericium erinaceus is an edible mushroom. It has been shown to improve cognitive impairment in the elderly. In addition, it is a NGF (Nerve Growth Factor that triggers neural growth and regeneration of damaged nerves. [19]
[20] [21]

© 2020 John Iovine

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    • Majestic Tells profile image

      Laurinzoscott 

      3 days ago from Kanab, Utah

      Thank YOU for an informative one...

    • John Iovine profile imageAUTHOR

      John Iovine 

      4 days ago from NY

      Thank you

    • Majestic Tells profile image

      Laurinzoscott 

      8 days ago from Kanab, Utah

      Wow...packed with useful, heloful information...great article

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