If you’ve ever found yourself searching for your sunglasses, just to find them on your head, or have lost your train of thought mid-sentence, you might momentarily wonder what’s going on with your mind. While these flubs can sometimes be embarrassing or jolting, it happens to just about everyone. And it will probably increase as you age. Find out what your age says about your brain health.
While we often focus on maintaining a nutritious, balanced diet and exercising a few times a week, we don’t tend to give too much thought to strengthening our brain health — until we are forgetful or have a harder time learning a new skill.
As children, our brains grow, learn and store a wide variety of information that can be easily recollected. But as we near the end of our 20s, the brain begins the aging process and we start to lose neurons — cells that make up the brain and nervous system. And by the time we are in our 60s, our brains have actually begun to shrink.
J. Ivan Lopez, MD, FAAN, Director, Renown Institute for Neurosciences offers tips to sharpen your brain health in your 20s, 30s and 40s.
Brain Health In Your 20s
Life is busy and ever-changing for those in their 20s and often revolves around college, travel and social engagements. While a lot of 20-somethings focus on their health and fitness, very few are focusing on exercising their brain. If you’re in your 20s, your brain begins transitioning into its fullest maturity as you near 30, and slows some of its speed of thought, causing some reasoning and spatial skills to decline.
“To improve your brain reserve and help brain health, continue exercising it through professional education, or increasing reading and writing in your off-time,” Dr. Lopez says.
Brain Health In Your 30s
Those in their 30s often embrace life’s bigger milestones — marriage, children, home buying, and advancing careers — and also begin to notice a new personality trait: forgetfulness. If you’re in your 30s, you will probably start asking, “What else do I need?” when grocery shopping, and remembering a new person’s name may seem to go in one ear and out the other. Throughout your 30s, your memory begins to slip as neurons in the brain decrease. You may also find it takes longer to learn new things.
“You can improve your brain health by exercising and maintaining a healthy diet. Spending time with your family and friends is helpful for both your physical and social health,” Dr. Lopez says.
Brain Health In Your 40s
Those in their 40s often focus on what they view as the most important — family, friends, aging parents and living in the moment — and less on a new gray hair, wrinkle or thigh dimple. For those in midlife, exercise and health often become an even larger priority, as well as improving brain function. If you’re in your 40s, you may realize your thinking is not as sharp as it once was, or your reasoning skills are slow. You may also discover difficulty in recalling past memories, but have noticed an increase in your cognitive memory and emotional intelligence.
“Stay healthy and look after yourself. Make sure you don’t have any medical conditions that can increase your risk for dementia, heart disease or stroke. Visit your primary care doctor and have your blood pressure checked annually,” Dr. Lopez says. “Also, incorporating a Mediterranean-style diet — abundant in vegetables, fruits, chicken, and fish — helps protect you from Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.”
Improve Your Brain Health At Any Age
Do you ever brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand? Take a new route to work? By switching up your daily routines, your brain is engaging in Neurobics, mental exercises that build new branches of brain cells and add to the computational reserves in your brain. Go ahead and shower with your eyes closed. It’s fun and good for you, too!
If you’re looking for one more reason to increase your rest, this is it: Sleep allows your brain to sort through the information it’s been collecting all day. If you miss out on your nightly zzz’s, your brain doesn’t recollect information and memories as effectively and won’t store them in long-term memory. So aim for a full 8 hours of sleep a night and when you feel like you need it, take a nap.
If you crave a midday energy boost or need that first cup of coffee in the morning to get going, you’re actually doing yourself a favor. Moderate caffeine consumption can help the brain focus and gives you the jolt of energy you need to get through the day.
Try to continue to challenge yourself in life by learning: It will literally grow your brain, and improve your brain age and brain health. Research has found intellectual activity can protect against dementia. It can also enhance your memory by creating new connections between nerve cells allowing your brain to store and retrieve information more easily. So go ahead and take a culinary cooking class, strum the ukulele, pick up the knitting needles or just read the news or a how-to book whenever you get a chance.
Dinner with friends is not only a great way to relieve stress and laugh, but it can also exercise your brain. Interactions with others stimulates the brain and can help keep your cognitive responses sharp. By having to remember names, stories and respond to others in a timely fashion, your brain is forced to work as hard as it would doing a crossword puzzle. And you don’t always have to leave the house — calling a friend and chatting on the phone is just as productive!