Keep your most important muscle – your brain – limber

Published 5:19 pm Thursday, July 25, 2013

A leading priority for millions worldwide is staying mentally sharp as they age.

Today, I’m going to explain some of what happens to our brain as we age, and some ways to help get back and keep a honed capacity. The brain contains neurons, which are nerve cells that specialize in transmitting information throughout the body. These cells communicate information in both chemical and electrical form.

An adult human brain can contain more than 100 billion neurons, but as we age, neurons diminish in number and size, reducing the ability to recall detail. Also, acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory, decreases with age. This reduces the brain’s ability to transport messages from one cell to the other.

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Stress, too, is a saboteur of a clear, sharp mind. One study that followed more than 1,200 people over 12 years found that those most easily stressed developed more cognitive impairment. “Free radicals” can damage DNA and mitochondria (energy producers) within brain cells, thereby causing them to function improperly or die. Free radicals are highly reactive atoms, some of which are produced by our own immune system to help fend off disease. These become problematic when produced in over abundance from causes such as smoking, processed foods, radiation (which includes UV rays from the sun), stress and drugs.

High LDL (bad) cholesterol levels can starve tiny capillaries that feed the brain, and high blood pressure doubles the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Now, all this sounds frightful, I know, but remember, the brain ages just like the rest of the body, and there are steps you can take to improve it. Here are some ways to reacquire that keen mind you once experienced.

First, get more rest: 

Research from the sleep disorders program at Massachusetts General Hospital determined that sleep helps the brain unite pieces of information and interpret them correctly. Conversely, too little sleep leads to bad performance and even mood disorders.

Take omega 3s: 

Found in fish such as salmon, halibut and sardines, omega-3 fatty acids are required for proper nerve cell communication. Eat your fruits and vegetables. They contain antioxidants that raise levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that’s essential for memory.