Most brains change rather significantly as we age. Researchers at Northwestern University have imaged the brains of about 400 elderly people and have found 35 super agers in the group.
The outermost layer of the brain — the cortex — usually shrinks as we get older. Scientists believe that this shrinkage results in a decreased capacity for learning and memory. However, super agers show very little shrinkage. The imaging of the brains of super agers closely resembles scans of people in their fifties.
Another region of the brain, the anterior cingulate supports the ability to pay attention. In super agers, this region is as robust (and in some cases actually bigger) than people much younger.
Correspondingly, these super-agers have better memories, are more optimistic and are more capable of learning than their elderly peers. Additional research suggests that super agers have more “cognitive control” — the ability to maintain emotional control in a stressful learning situation.
Can You Retain and Improve Your Brain Function? Can You Become a Super Ager?
Your chances of being a super ager probably depend on your genetics. However, a number of lifestyle factors have also been proven to either correlate with or result in improved memory and brain function.
Here are 9 ways you can improve and retain your memory:
1. Avoid stress: Stress actually damages the brain. While we can not always avoid stress, we can train ourselves to deal with it in positive ways. Meditation, deep breathing and other stress relieving habits can enable you to keep your brain healthier.
2. Teach: You have probably heard of the adage that you don’t really know something until you can teach it. This is because being able to explain something requires a deep and organized understanding of the subject.
You can improve your brain function by slowing down and really learning things — learning them well enough that you could teach the subject.
3. Maintain healthy relationships: Scientists believe that the large size of the human brain is due to the fact that we are social beings. We have big brains because we need to organize a great deal of complicated information in order to maintain social connections.
It therefore follows that maintaining good relationships with friends, families and even pets can keep our brains healthy. Furthermore, Harvard Medical School reports that strong relationships can result in less stress which can impact your brain as well as body.
Psychiatrist Dr. Amy Banks says, that “when we feel warmly, safely connected to others, only then do our neural pathways get the stimulation they need to make our brains calmer, more tolerant, more resonant and more productive.”
4. Eat the right food: If you want a healthy brain, it may be best to eat things that are particularly good for you. Antioxidant rich foods like blueberries can help protect our brains from stress. Broccoli has high levels of vitamin K which can specifically aid memory. Healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil and avocados support brain health too.
Here is a list of foods for a healthier brain.
5. Play games: Games help keep our brains healthy in a variety of ways. They are fun, which reduces stress. They create social connections. And, they are exercise for the brain itself — use it or lose it.
6. Learn something: Learning new skills gives your brain the ability to generate new connections — making it bigger and better functioning.
7. Slow down: If you want to remember something, give yourself time. Whether you are learning something new, or trying to remember something from a long time ago, if you slow down and really process the information, you will improve your brain function. Also, try to engage all of your senses when learning and remembering. Think about smells, tastes, sounds and touch and you will have greater brain capacity.
8. Exercise: Physical exercise is not just good for body, research shows it can also change the brain. Regular aerobic activity boosts the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.
9. Plan your retirement: Does this tip surprise you?
Planning your retirement is a task that can help your brain function in a variety of ways. Having a solid retirement plan is proven to reduce stress. It engages your brain in a complicated exercise which can help build neural connections. And, you can learn new things.
The NewRetirement retirement calculator makes it easy to start planning your retirement. This tool was recently named a best retirement calculator by the American Association of Individual Investor’s (AAII).
Furthermore, if you are a super ager and will lead a long and healthy life, you will need a good financial plan to pay for those many happy years.