Keys to Keeping Your Brain Healthy

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

Font: NTNU

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

But like the rest of your body, your brain may not be as vigorous when you get a little older. You may have to write things down, forget appointments, or be unable to 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 the NTNU Department of Psychology.

Roughly speaking, gray matter consists 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 science brings together much of what we know from previous research in the field of brain health. The researchers went to great lengths to be thorough in their theoretical perspective article and offer 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. Being Social.
  3. Have strong interests. Learn new things and don’t stop at 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 for the brain as well.

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

So it’s important not to get stuck in your chair. This requires 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, even 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 a little the phrase of the writer and philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. (Although his version was certainly a bit more complicated.) But in this sense, you have to arm yourself with courage.

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 keep the brain from slowing down,” says Sigmundsson.

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

3. Passion

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

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

Stay curious. Don’t give up and let everything run its course the same way every time. You are never too old to do something you have 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 from the University of Stavanger on the full paper.

See also

This shows an overheated man on a beach.

Thus, their research presents a similar picture for the brain as it does for the body. You have to exercise the brain so that it does not decay. “Use it or lose it”, as the saying goes.

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

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

About this brain health research news

Author: Steinar Brandslet
Font: 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 science


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

The aim of the current article was to present important factors for keeping intact the basic structures of a person’s brain function, that is, the gray and white matter.

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

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

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

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

This theoretical perspective paper aims to convey several key messages: (1) brain development is critically affected by lifestyle; (2) physical training allows the development and maintenance of brain structures during aging, and may be one of the keys to a good quality of life in old age; (3) various stimuli are a key factor in maintaining brain structures; (4) movement, relationship and passion are key elements to contrast the loss of gray and white matter in the brain.

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