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Is your brain slowing down?

Then future-proof it by doing something different or learning a new skill!

When I ran a survey a few months ago to see which aspects of ageing caused those of us beyond a certain age the most concern, brain health came out tops time and time again. This did not surprise me because the image of an elderly person sitting passively in front of the television for hours on end is a frightening one, as are the statistics for brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Even foggy thinking is disturbing, and that is something which younger and younger people are experiencing.

Our brain becomes less flexible as we grow older, but giving it the right kind of stimulation – let alone taking good care of it through a nutrient-dense diet, appropriate movement and plenty of sleep – can keep it in good working order, and you feeling bright, dynamic and truly alive. This is Dynamic Ageing at its most powerful!

Modern research has shown that the human brain is “plastic” and ever-changing, that it can grow and flourish, or it can shrivel and shrink; it can actually grow larger, or smaller, depending on how much, and how, we use it. New brain cells can grow and new brain pathways can develop, because the brain is in fact an ACTIVE organ which responds positively or negatively to how we live our lives, and most importantly, to how much beneficial stimulation we provide it with. Isolation, insufficient sleep and stress for instance can result in brain tissue breaking down, while positive experiences like friendship and socialising can cause our grey matter to expand.

The good news is that many of the ways in which we can invigorate our brain are actually great fun and involve enjoyment – even play. As we grow older, our life tends to become more regimented with fixed routines and unconscious, often self-imposed, limitations which curtail the time and space available to us on a daily basis to try out new experiences – and new experiences are vital. Think in terms of learning a new language, which requires coordination through multiple areas of the brain and results in a different section of the brain developing.

Or how about dancing? Dancing, whether the old-fashioned way, or anything more modern, stimulates numerous brain activities involved in rhythm and coordination – in fact, research has shown that dancing can result in superior cognitive, motor and perceptual abilities. If you care to take up juggling, this will do wonders for your brain, as will playing a musical instrument or participating in card games like bridge. How about doing some art and painting? Using your non-dominant hand more frequently? Cooking? Gardening? Tennis? Golf? Doing the crossword? Or my great favourite, travelling? Anything which adds to our repertoire of skills, exposes us to new stimuli and environments, and thereby gets the brain cells ticking over will boost your brain power.

It is however important to understand that it is not a case of doing something different on an occasional basis – we need to look at the brain rather like a muscle which needs to be exercised and if we stop practising a skill, our ability in that area regresses. So keep using your brain and setting it new and exciting tasks!

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