Keys to keeping your brain healthy

Summary: Three factors have been identified that help keep your brain at its best.

Source: NTNU

Your brain is pretty fabulous. Around 100 billion nerve cells work together to keep you nimble and quick in your thinking.

But just like the rest of your body, your brain may not be as vigorous when you get a little older. Maybe you find yourself having to write things down, or you forget quotes, or you can’t follow the conversation or action on TV without straining.

Fortunately, it is also possible to exercise the brain.

“The keys to our nervous system are the gray and white matter,” says Hermundur Sigmundsson, a professor in NTNU’s Department of Psychology.

Broadly speaking, gray matter is made up of nerve cells – or neurons – and dendrites, while white matter provides the contacts between cells (myelinated axons) and contributes to the speed of transmission and distribution of signals.

Three factors contribute to good brain health

A recent article in the magazine Brain Sciences brings together much of what we know from previous research in the field of brain health. The researchers went out of their way to be thorough in their theoretical perspective article and provide 101 references to articles on how to keep our gray and white matter in shape.

“Three factors stand out if you want to keep your brain at its best,” says Sigmundsson.

These factors are:

  1. Physical exercise.
  2. Be social
  3. Have strong interests. Learn new things and don’t shy away from new challenges.

1. Movement

This is probably the biggest challenge for many of us. Your body gets lazy if you sit too much on your butt. Unfortunately, the same is true of the brain as well.

“An active lifestyle helps develop the central nervous system and counteract brain aging,” according to Sigmundsson and colleagues.

Therefore, it is important not to get stuck in the chair. This takes effort and there is no way around it. If you have a sedentary job, go to school or when you finish work, you need to be active, also physically.

2. Relationships

Some of us are happier alone or with a few people, and we know that “hell is other people”, if we transcribe the phrase of the writer and philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. (Although admittedly his version was a bit more involved.) But on that note, you have to take it.

Fortunately, it is also possible to exercise the brain. The image is in the public domain

“Relationships with and interaction with other people contribute to a number of complex biological factors that can prevent the brain from slowing down,” says Sigmundsson.

Being with other people, such as through conversation or physical contact, supports good brain function.

3. Passion

That last point may have something to do with your personality, but if you’ve read this far, chances are you already have the necessary grounding and are probably willing to learn.

“Passion, or having a strong interest in something, can be the decisive and driving factor that leads us to learn new things. Over time, this affects the development and maintenance of our neural networks,” says Sigmundsson.

Be curious. Don’t give up and let everything take its course always the same way. You’re never too old to do something you’ve never done before. Maybe now is the time to learn to play a new musical instrument.

Use it or lose it

Sigmundsson collaborated with master’s student Benjamin H. Dybendal and associate professor Simone Grassini at the University of Stavanger on the full paper.

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Thus, their research presents a similar picture for the brain as it does for the body. You have to exercise your brain so it doesn’t deteriorate. “Use it or lose it” as the saying goes.

“Brain development is closely related to lifestyle. Physical exercise, relationships and passion help develop and maintain the basic structures of our brain as we age,” says Sigmundsson.

These three factors therefore offer some of the keys to maintaining a good quality of life – and hopefully – to aging well.

About this brain health research news

Author: Steiner Brandslet
Source: NTNU
Contact: Steinar Brandslet – NTNU
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access
“Movement, relationship and passion in the physiological and cognitive aging of the brain” by Hermundur Sigmundsson et al. Brain Sciences


Movement, relationship and passion in the physiological and cognitive aging of the brain

The purpose of the present article was to present important factors in keeping intact the basic structures of a person’s brain function, namely the gray and white matter.

Several lines of evidence have shown that movement, relatedness, and passion are central factors in preserving the gray and white matter neural system during aging.

An active lifestyle has been shown to contribute to the development of the central nervous system and to counteract brain aging.

Interpersonal relationships and interactions have been shown to contribute to complex biological factors that benefit cognitive resilience to decline.

In addition, current scientific literature suggests that passion, strong interest, could be the driving factor that motivates individuals to learn new things, thus influencing the development and maintenance of the neural functional network over time.

The present theoretical perspective article aims to convey several key messages: (1) brain development is critically affected by lifestyle; (2) physical training helps to develop and maintain brain structures during aging, and may be one of the keys to a good quality of life as an elderly person; (3) diverse stimuli are a key factor in maintaining brain structures; (4) movement, relationship and passion are key elements to contrast gray and white matter loss in the brain.

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