Aging Brain

Your aging brain is doing just fine. In fact, there are a couple of concepts recently discovered about the human brain, called neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, that describe processes in our brains that continue throughout the lifespsan.

In fact, they can even be enhanced.

Neurogenesis is the growth of new brain cells, and neuroplasticity describes the connectivity of neurons, which happens in minutes, when we challenge our brains with novel learning experiences. You do not have to become a physicist to enhance neuroplasticity. But more on that in a second, first this from AARP

"Brain researchers have learned that our brains are just as capable of learning in the second half of life as in the first half. In addition, we've also learned more by this time, simply by growing older and having more time to learn.

So, in many ways, the brain is like a new wine, growing richer with each new season.

In fact, you might consider aging to be good news. Not only do we—and our brains—continue to learn, but we also acquire priceless wisdom.

Good News About Aging

In healthy people, the basic ways our brains learn probably don't change much as we age—it's just that learning may take a bit longer. But when we learn something well, it tends to stick with us just as well as it did in younger years.

Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. -Alfred Lord Tennyson

More good news about aging:

* The skills we learned earlier in life and practiced over the years—like analyzing the stock market or playing tennis—may now be at their finest. * We develop a richer vocabulary, and a better understanding of how to use these words effectively. * Our short-term memory and ability to recall events from our past both tend to hold up well as we grow older. * Our memory for factual and conceptual information—which we use to analyze situations and solve problems—also remains well preserved.

Gaining Wisdom As We Age

Wisdom can be defined as the ability to grasp the essence of complex situations or problems and to act upon this understanding.

Wisdom is almost always associated with older age: We grow wiser through our increasing years of experience.

From childhood on, we gain experience in all aspects of life. By the time we are older, we've been exposed to more situations and, have probably learned from past mistakes as well as past successes.

We can use the lessons we've learned over the decades, applying them to the challenges and opportunities we face every day. This gives us a wonderful advantage in making important judgments and decisions.

"We can make the brain work better simply by accumulating more knowledge, which builds more networks of connections in the brain," says James McGaugh. "The wisdom we acquire can compensate for the decline that may be gradually occurring."

This content is brought by Staying Sharp, a partnership between NRTA: AARP's Educator Community and the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives."

Aging Brain Generates New Neurons?

Your aging brain grows new neurons every day? It sure does, that is the good news.

You remember Paul Harvey, right, there is a 'rest of the story.'

To keep those new neurons, you have to challenge them with what the neuroscientists are calling novel learning challenge, and that means the kind of learning that happens in the brain when I learn a new language, or learn to play a new instrument, or I use a computerized brain fitness program.

What a novel learning experience cannot be more of is the same old same old, which means that I cannot go read another counseling book and expect to cement those new neurons into existing memory circuits, because my brain already knows counseling. Same for sudoku and crosswords.

The learning does not have to be intense, just new, and it must provide increasing levels of challenge and the optimum amount of feedback to my brain for learning. That is what the computerized programs do so well.

One of those programs, the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program has just been put to the research test in the IMPACT study involving over 500 Senior brains, and both the participants and the the researchers were surprised at the results.

That kind of challenge allows my brain to keep those new cells, if I do not kill them off with stress hormones, booze, or environmental toxins.

So I need to learn stress management, and manage my sleep well as part of my brain fitness workout.

If you want an easy to read overview of the brain fitness field, and what we Boomers and Seniors can do about taking care of our own brains, then by all means, check out Brainfit for Life by Simon Evans, Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D. who are neuroscientists at the University of Michigan.

They write for the layperson, and throw in some sly humor, and really speak comprehensively about the pillars of brain fitness, physical exercise, nutrition, including omega 3 fatty acid, sleep, stress management, and the novel learning experience required for neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.

Aging Brain and Physical Exercise

Evans and Burghardt report that physical activity/exercise is the most important thing we can do for our aging brain, and I was watching a PBS tv show the other day that said exercise does not enhance neurogenesis, it did it in a section of a rat's brain.

I have been working out for a long time, and I know that intense physical exercise leaves me feeling good, and ready to get on with the business of retirement, parenting, and husbanding.

If you are not into intense, and by that I mean about an hours worth of elliptical trainer, treadmill, and /or lifteing weights, you do not have to do that for the benefits of neurogenesis to happen.

You can do what 88 year old Bill and 82 year old Pat do prepare for the rigors of traveling. Their workout is brief, and does not involve expensive club memberships or trainers. In fact you can do a wonderful neurogenetic workout in your basement in ten minutes with an exercise ball or dumbbells and some loud rock and roll with a good bass line for inspiration.

The best stress management and sleeping tool is deep breathing and perhaps visualization.

I tell that to my clients and they nod sagely, and go back to doing just the opposite which actually enhances stress hormones in the body which bodes ill for those new neurons born every day.

If you want a technological tool to enhance your sleep and stress management, then I suggest the Heartmath or emWave.

I have been training folks with them for about 8 years with wonderful results.

Bet you didn't know that your heart has a nervous system all of its own, and you can train that nervous system to beat coherently which is very cool for your brain, because it opens up the higher perceptual centers in the brain for decision making.

Relaxation, good sleep, and neurogenesis enhanced?

There is a link to the Heartmath suite in the right column.

Your Aging Brain and Nutrition

Evans and Burghardt take the whole second chapter of their book to talk about the micro and macro nutrients necessary for neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. No where do they suggest that processed foods are good for you, and they aren't. Delete them. Processed foods are filled with high fructose corn syrup and appetite stimulants, which stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain so that we eat way more than is necessary.

If you want information on very healthy eating, I would look to the Coronary Health Improvement Program, or CHIP, which has been put together by Hans Diehl. The CHIP program has been demonstrated to impact many chronic health conditions simply by giving the body the nutrients it needs to heal itself.

However, Evans and Burghardt do emphasize the role of omega 3 fatty acid for brain neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. The best source of omega 3 is fish, which means you have to monitor your intake for mercury poisoning. If mercury poisoning is not your cup of tea, then you may have to use an appropriately processed omega 3 fatty acid supplement.

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Would you share what you are most grateful for? Your story could be just what another person is searching for to renew themselves? Thanks.