Humans have brain plasticity, or neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to change for better or worse at any age.
This flexibility of the brain plays a significant role in the development or decline of our brains, and how our distinct personalities are shaped.
Neural connections can be forged or severed, and grey matter can thicken or shrink. These changes reflect transformations in our abilities.
For example, learning a new skill can wire new neural pathways in our brains, while aging may weaken certain neural pathways that once existed and result in our memories not performing as well as they once did.
The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association have recently developed seven steps that aim to help individuals keep their brains healthy, from childhood into old age. They advise people to:
- Get regular exercise
- Eat a healthful diet
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Control cholesterol
- Regulate blood sugar levels
- Manage blood pressure
- Quit smoking
In addition to following these guidelines, we provide five steps to reach optimal brain health and improve your mind for the year ahead.
Get physically active
From childhood through adulthood and into old age, physical activity has been shown time and time again to benefit brain health. Exercise has been demonstrated to improve memory and thinking ability among older adults with mild cognitive impairment. Aerobic exercise, in particular, was shown to increase brain volume in most grey matter regions, including those that support short-term memory and improve cognitive function.
Scientists have indicated that even short bouts of physical activity may have a positive effect on the brain.
Taking part in 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training for 6 weeks has been associated with improvements in high-interference memory, which allows us to differentiate between our car and one of the same make, model, and colour, for example.
Other research revealed that a one-time 10-minute burst of exercise temporarily boosts areas of the brain responsible for focus, decision-making, and problem-solving. This suggests that right before a cognitively demanding task such as an exam, test, or interview, performance may be improved by a brisk walk or cycle.
Eat a brain-boosting Mediterranean diet
Research discovered that people who follow a Mediterranean diet might have long-term brain protection. Study participants who consumed a Mediterranean diet retained more brain volume over 3 years than those not following the diet.
Eating a Mediterranean diet has also been shown to slow down the rate of cognitive decline and is linked with improved brain function in older adults.
Expand cognitive abilities with training
Brain training has had mixed results in studies. While some research has shown that brain training improves memory and cognitive ability, other studies report that there is little evidence to support claims that brain-training programs improve everyday cognitive performance.
Research that was led by Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, found that not only is super-sized memory ability trainable, but it is also long-lasting.
Learn a new language
Researchers at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Russia, as well as the University of Helsinki in Finland report that learning foreign languages enhances the elasticity of the brain and its capacity to code information.
They explain that the more languages a person learns, the faster their neural network reacts to process the accumulated data.
Speaking two or more languages might slow down the cognitive decline associated with aging, even if the other languages are learned during adulthood.
Study a musical instrument
Receiving musical training as a child has been demonstrated to prevent the deterioration of speech listening skills in later years and may ward off age-related cognitive decline.
Playing sounds on an instrument changes brain waves in such a way that rapidly improves listening and hearing skills. The altered brain activity illustrates that the brain can rewire itself and compensate for disease or injuries that may get in the way of a person’s ability to perform tasks.
Learning a physical task with music has also been shown to increase structural connectivity between the areas of the brain that are responsible for processing sounds and controlling movement.
Source: Medical News Today