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2 Things You Need for a Younger Brain
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Henry S Lodge, MD posted:
When I was in medical school, we were taught that you got all your brain cells by the time you were two years old. And by age 30, you start to lose them. Cognitive aging was simply the slow, steady loss of brain cells that occurred as you age. Well, it turns out this was wrong! Scientists around the world have demonstrated that your brain can continue to grow throughout your life -- growing new cells, forming new connections, and rewiring existing ones. But this only happens if you use it. An idle brain will wither and decay, which leads to the decline in cognitive function that we once accepted as being part of the normal aging process.

There are two great roads to rejuvenating your brain, and they might surprise you:
- Exercise. MRI studies show marked growth in new brain tissue after three months of regular exercise. This growth is not just in the parts of the brain that control movement. It's also evident in the areas responsible for memory, decision-making, and judgment.

- Social Connectedness. Your brain grows and thrives in direct proportion with the meaningful social connections you have -- meaning your engagement with friends, family, and your community. People who are lonely and depressed actually lose brain tissue overtime and show marked reductions in cognitive function. But people who stay connected with others and give back to their communities improve their chances of staying vibrant and sharp well into their later years.

There's a wonderful scientific study going on that's a great example of the power of staying connected. A program called Experience Corps is putting older people in schools as reading tutors for young kids. The kids are doing better, of course. But the tutors are doing better too -- a lot better! All markers of health are improving -- blood pressure and weight are going down, and mood and energy are going up. What's also interesting is that a wide range of blood tests that measure inflammation (linked to long-term risks of heart attack, stroke, and common cancers) also show improvement with social connection and emotional involvement!

Are you surprised at the control we can have over our brain health? Could this prompt you to make different lifestyle choices?
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PetuniaPea responded:
I've recently heard about how the brain can continue to grow throughout our lives. It's very exciting news, indeed. Our whole view of aging is shifting, and in my opinion, shifting toward the better. The phrase, "Oh, that's just normal aging," should be laid to rest! No--to become feeble, brittle, depressed, listless, forgetful, and senile is not normal aging!

It takes a bit of hard work and dedictation, and perhaps a lifestyle change, but people can age gracefully, and with dignity. And with more information coming from the medical field, people can become educated to the fact that they can control their destiny by just adding a few things to their lives.

Both my grandmothers developed Alzheimer's disease. I never knew one, but I was close to my other one. She had the 1950's mentality of eating roast beef, meatloaf, and other All-American meat dishes. Mashed potatoes and gravy, frozen peas and carrots, and corn were probably the only vegetables she ate. And of course a dinner isn't complete without some sort of cake or pie.

There were no blueberries, walnuts, fish, flaxseeds, and dark leafy greens in her diet. These discoveries weren't common knowledge, like they are today.

She and my grandfather moved into a neighborhood that was supposed to be a senior community, but that fell through and never happened. She lacked that social connectedness you talk about in your article.

She would sit and make Afghan blankets, she'd do cross-stitching, she'd play board games and do puzzles. No exercising

And no real exercise for the brain. I've read that you really have to challenge yourself mentally. Reading or playing a familiar instrument is not challenging enough. Learning a new language or musical instrument IS!

We know so much now. I'm sure if she knew, she would have made better lifestyle choices
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