Did you know that maintaining healthy circulation and blood flow is crucial to the health of your brain? That’s one of the reasons why physical exercise is important for brain health, and is instrumental in many therapies for those with brain injuries and other health conditions. While the brain is not large in comparison to the rest of the body (your brain is only about 2 percent of your body’s overall weight), it receives a whopping 20% of your body’s blood supply. No wonder it is important to make sure that circulation is optimized and that your brain gets the oxygen and blood supply it needs for proper functioning.
While aging can take its toll on the muscles and joints through reduced muscle mass, decreased fast twitch fiber type (responsible for speed), and other physiological changes, the brain is also vulnerable due to aging. Some of the changes to your brain as you age include:
- prefrontal cortex and hippocampus shrinkage (these are important areas for learning, memory, and planning)
- White matter degrades, meaning that communication between neurons can be reduced in some brain regions. The good news is that neuroplasticity can make up for some reductions in brain capacity.
- Less blood flow to the brain due to narrowed arteries and fewer new capillaries
- Sometimes plaques and tangles develop. It is currently unknown whether this always affects cognition, as more research is needed
- Inflammation sometimes increases with negative effects to brain function including a higher risk of dementia and cognitive problems
- Many people experience an overall decline in memory as well as decreases in the ability to perform attention-related tasks and learn new things.
What can be done about these changes? Just as physical conditioning can increase muscle mass, blood flow, speed, agility, and improve other age-related physical changes, there is much that can be done to keep the aging brain in top shape. The aging brain can adapt by activating additional brain regions when some are lost, especially during cognitive tasks. It may be that this is as a result of compensations for deficits in other regions. Pairing physical exercise with cognitive challenges is one of the best ways to keep both your brain and body at its best. Research continues to suggest that major declines in brain function are not inevitable with aging, especially in those who keep an active and healthy lifestyle. By exercising and eating more natural and less processed foods as well as a diet high in fruits and vegetables, you may be able to increase your cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve is the ability of the brain to continue working well when function is disrupted, as well as the amount of damage that can be sustained before cognitive changes are evident. Here are some other important ways to improve your changes of staying mentally and physically sharp as you age:
- Control your risk factors for cognitive decline. High blood pressure (untreated), heart disease, and diabetes are all linked to brain illnesses. Keep your circulation high by exercising and eat a heart healthy diet. Reduce sugar intake and any food that is associated with increased inflammation in the body.
- Keep physically active and engage in social and cognitive activities regularly (at Love Your Age we combine all three in our Brain and Body classes)
- Eat unprocessed natural foods, especially foods that inhibit inflammation in the body
To learn more about how you can keep your brain and your body in top condition as you age, attend our free seminar at Granville Gardens on April 30th, from 2 to 3 pm.