Aging and Declining Strength. Are You Slowing Down Physically and Mentally?
Why We Slow Down Both Physically and Mentally
The reason we lose it and slow down is simple. We just don't use our body and brain as much as we once did. Much of the decline in strength and stamina that we blame on age is actually due to disuse. When we slow down, it gets harder to pick up the pace again. So the natural tendency is to slow down even more. Sound familiar?
We absolutely must continually challenge ourselves with a variety of activities such as:
- Playing the piano
- Shooting pool
- Learning a foreign language
- Exercise - Walking, running, hiking,swimming, biking, stretching or pilates. And housework counts too.
- Learning to knit.
- Acting in a play
- Brain Games
Practice New Skills
Learning New Skills
Each time we learn a new skill we have to practice in order to learn. Practicing is how we progress from step one, the beginning of learning, to the final step. Finding the time to learn and maintain a skill in the midst of our busy lives can be a challenge. But it's important to remember that in midlife and beyond, we get the most benefit from the first small effort.
As we practice our skills, even just a little each week, we are exercising the capacities that are important to us. And practicing many of our skills, just a little bit, is more important than concentrating on just one or two.
Remember the neurons we talked about in the beginning of this article? (If not, I suggest going back and review this section.) When we practice, these neurons actually grow microscopic filaments to connect to one another. This is a process known as arborization. When we stop practicing, these connections wither away.
So every time we learn new skills or master new areas of knowledge, our neurons get busy and secrete growth hormones that foster arborization. This, then, stimulates their growth as well as the growth of their neighbors.
The more connections between neurons are formed, the more we learn and the more information we retain.
The Brain Is A Learning Machine
The brain is a learning machine. It wants to continually be taught something new. We need to feed it daily with a challenge of some sort. Part of the brain is devoted to learning, striving to meet challenges and dealing with frustration. Another part of the brain takes care of establishing habits and routines. If we let one part atrophy, its functions are then taken over by areas that are used more.
We must keep challenging ourselves and continue to learn new skills. If we neglect to do this, a part of the brain goes quiet and brain activity shifts to it's humdrum mode. The more we let ourselves just sit around, failing to try a new challenge, the harder it will be to reactivate that part of our brain.
What Is A Neuron?
A neuron is a nerve cell. This cell processes information through electrical and chemical signals. Neurons connect to each other to form neural networks. Neurons are the core components of the nervous system. They include the brain, the spinal cord and the central nervous system as well as the ganglia of the peripheral nervous system.
Specialized types of neurons include: sensory neurons, sensory organs, motor neurons and interneurons.
As far as your brain is concerned - You are what you eat. Try to avoid processed food and go easy on the red meat. Watch your salt intake if you have high blood pressure. Drink plenty of water and avoid soft drinks.
Make 3/4ths of your plate veggies and swap sugar heavy ice cream and pastries for healthy blueberries. Go organic whenever possible. Avoid junk food and eat a balanced diet including salmon, walnuts and kiwi - rich in omega 3 fatty acids. These foods will definitely beef up your brain.
Structure of a Typical Neuron
Declining Strength As We Age. Use It Or Lose It
We've all heard the saying, "use it or lose it." This applies to both the physical and the mental areas of the body. So are you finding that as you age you are slowing down both physically and mentally?
At UCLA, recent research demonstrated that exercise increased the growth factors in the brain - making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections. Pay attention to the word "neuron" because these little guys play a most important role. They are the reason why your body must be used both physically and mentally regularly.
The deterioration of our abilities occurs due to disuse, and this law applies to both your mental and physical abilities-to chess as much as tennis.
We blame our decline in strength and stamina on age while it's actually due to disuse. When we slow down, it gets harder to pick up the pace again, so we slow down even more.
The February 2003 Journal of Gerontology also showed that those who are physically fit had less age-related brain-tissue shrinkage than those less active. This alone should give us the motivation we need to be more active.
Whether we decide to take a short walk 2 - 4 times per week, or join a water-aerobics class, the important issue is to get our bodies moving. I recently joined a Ti Chai class at our local YMCA. Although I enjoy this form of exercise I learned that some of the movements were hard on my knees. I'm learning to modify those movements to avoid knee pain. Be sure you do only what your body will tolerate if you take part in group activities.
Check Your Breathing
Everyone enters this world using diaphragmatic breathing. As babies, when ever we inhale, the abdominal wall and lower ribcage will inflate. This a completely natural action. All animals also breathe by using this valuable muscle.
We actually un-learn the proper way to breathe. Instead of keeping the chest quiet and inflate around the waistline to take a breath, we lift the chest high, along with the shoulders, and pull our abdominal area in. This is not how we were designed to breathe.
It's time to re-learn this natural way of breathing. This easy step-by-step article teaches you how with supporting photos.
Diaphragmatic breathing (belly breath) provides the following benefits:
- Releases endorphins in the brain, making you feel good.
- Releases stress.
- Detoxifies and releases toxins in the body.
- Brings clarity to the mind.
- Aids in reducing pain.
- Oxygenates all cells.
- Strengthens the immune system.
- Makes the heart stronger.
- Strengthens the lungs.
Make time each day to practice diaphragmatic breathing. Cultivate an awareness for how your body moves as you breathe.
How To Inhale and Exhale Air
Increasing Much Needed Oxygen To The Brain
The brain weighs about 3 pounds and consumes as much as 20% of the oxygen and glucose taken in by the body. Blood flow is the single most important thing for the brain. We need large volumes of blood, constantly delivered to the brain. This is how we maintain proper brain function.
Whenever there is any type of interruption in the delivery of blood to our brain this can lead very quickly to disorientation, dizziness and other problems including unconsciousness.
NACD (National Association For Child Development) reports that our brain needs to be fed well (no junk food people.) We also need to do everything possible to get the best circulation of blood to the brain.
One way to increase oxygen and circulation is by breathing. But you must breathe the right way. For oxygenation, breathing must be done using the diaphragmatic muscle.
NACD suggests the following :
When we breathe normally and deeply into our belly, we move air and oxygen down to areas of our lungs where most of the circulation of blood is. This is where most oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange takes place. If we don’t learn to breathe naturally with our diaphragm muscle, we do not get the proper amount of oxygen into our blood to be carried to our brain and body parts.
If we breathe through our mouth, we do not rebreathe the stored carbon dioxide and nitric oxide that help circulate blood to the brain in order to oxygenate brain cells. Remember, the carbon dioxide and nitric oxide open up blood vessels in the brain so we can get proper oxygen levels in our brain. Nitric oxide helps dilate blood vessels in our lungs so that we can get good circulation there for exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Challenge Both Your Brain And Your Body
4 Facts About Your Brain And Oxygen
- The brain uses three times as much oxygen as the muscles in the body.
- Brain cells are very sensitive to decreases in oxygen levels and don't survive or function very well without it.
- Short walks throughout the day will increase your circulation and oxygen to the brain better than hard, longer walks. Forced walks or runs, while good for you, cause your muscles to absorb much of the oxygen in your system which hinders the oxygen being carried to your brain.
- It's better to breathe through your nose under normal conditions than it is your mouth.
Exercises For Balance, Strength and Cardio For Physical And Mental Fitness
* Standing on One Leg
Keeping Your Brain Healthy
As we age, it's natural to slow down both physically and mentally. For the most part, this begins around the age of forty. However, the decline in our brain and body, occur mostly because of disuse. No matter what age we are, we absolutely must use our brain and body.
- Brain cells fire off commands to muscles. Skills such as playing the piano, learning a foreign language, along with daily exercises such as walking continue to challenge both the brain and the body. Keep your neurons busy.
- Learn diaphragmatic breathing to supply oxygen to the brain.
- If you've been inactive for a while, start off with simple activities around the house like vacuuming, mopping the floor or even polishing the furniture.
- Take your dog for a leisurely walk, wearing good shoes to protect your feet, and help with balance.
- Exercise affects the brain. It increases your heart rate which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It stimulates the growth of new connections with the brain.
- Physical exercise reorganizes the brain so that it's more resilient to stress.
- Singing is a physical effect which releases endorphins (the brains feel-good chemicals.)
I tell folks, "I'm not old. I've just been 21 for a long time."
In the words of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”
UCLA - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15159540
What Do You Think?
Is Age A Factor For Slowing Down Physically and Mentally
“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”
Betty Friedan (1921-2006)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2014 Audrey Hunt