3 Ways to Power Boost Your Aging Brain

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Is it possible to maintain an agile and sharp mind as our bodies age? Yes- but it’s going to take some work and it may not be the type of work you’d expect.

Common sense might suggest that brain exercises like crossword puzzles or brain training programs are the most effective way to combat cognitive decline. However, evidence suggests that targeting our cognitive deficits directly may be less effective than using indirect approaches like exercise and meditation.

Even though time certainly takes a toll on the brain, there are ways to combat the undesirable effects associated with aging! Listed below are a few science-backed ways to be proactive in keeping your brain healthy as you age.

3 Ways to Power Boost Your Brain

1) Aerobic Activity

Get moving! About a decade ago, psychologists led by Art Kramer at the University of Illinois discovered that vigorous 40-minute walks per week over a six month period improved the ability to control attention and inhibit distracting information in older adults.

According to those same scientists, aerobic exercise spurs the creation of new brain cell and increases production of pathways important for brain cell communication in areas responsible for forethought, planning, and other key executive functions. Since then, more studies have emerged showing similar results: anything that gets the blood flowing— walking, playing sports, dancing, and even cleaning can improve cognitive functioning in everyone!

2) Meaningful Social Engagement

Do more of what you love with the people you love! Evidence suggests that being social may help improve overall cognitive performance. Here’s the really interesting part: active engagement and meaningful interactions that stimulated the emotions seemed to play a large part in providing protection for the brain. So, make some plans with your best friend or spend some time with your family – you’ll be protecting your noggin!

3) Mindfulness Practice

The findings on the effects of mindfulness are very compelling! One 2013 study showed how teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to 201 older adults for eight weeks led to increased executive functioning by about 12%! It’s important to note that some of the participants who discontinued MBSR 6 months later lost most of the benefit. So as with most things, consistency is important!

In a development that focuses on again altogether, psychiatry researchers at the University of California–San Francisco are testing the possibility that meditation may be able to slow down cellular aging. Shortened telomeres, the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes, have been linked to chronic stress, depression, and normal aging. Since research suggests that meditation can decrease stress and depression, investigators are on their way to discovering if mindfulness-based techniques can protect or maybe even reverse the shortening of telomeres and slow down cellular aging.

Furthermore, scientists found evidence after reviewing seven peer-reviewed studies suggesting that meditation may have a positive effect on attention, memory, cognitive flexibility, as well as language recall skills. Research into the relationship between mindfulness and brain function is only just beginning!

One thing is for sure: no one lives forever, but if meditating, dancing, walking, and hanging out with people you love will make the mind a little sharper, why not?

Sharon Begley is a senior science writer with The Boston Globe Media Group, author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, and coauthor with Richard Davidson of The Emotional Life of Your Brain. She writes a regular column for Mindful magazine called Brain Science.

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