There is an outdated school of thought which believes that once you’ve reached physical maturity, your brain ceases to make new brain cells. But that just isn’t the case. Otherwise, everyone would be getting dementia!
Brain cells aren’t immortal. They can get sick and die just like any other cell in the body. And if not for a process called neurogenesis, your brain would gradually deplete itself of neurons simply from aging. This would cause your brain to shrink and then lead to impaired cognitive functions (1).
Recent research shows that the brain is dynamic, meaning that it is capable of growing and rewiring as well as heal itself in adulthood (2).
This is demonstrated through neurogenesis, the ability to make new neurons and neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to reorganize itself and build new neuropathways.
Keeping you brain healthy and active is just a questions of practicing certain habits.
1. Make An Effort To Learn a New Skill
Every time you learn something new, recall a fact, or recognize your thoughts, you’re stimulating your brain.
Related: 9 Key Lifestyle Changes for Preventing Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Trying something new forces the brain to build new neuropathways to connect new and old information. Practicing your skills reinforces those existing neuropathways.
When you stop actively trying to learn or practice your skills, your brain gets rid of the information it no longer uses. This makes it harder to remember and store new information. Think of your brain as a muscle: either you use it, or you lose it.
“Atrophy of the brain used to be viewed as a side effect of aging. Now, we know this may simply be a lack of use.” (3)
Try playing sudoku, learning a new language, or painting. It’ll help keep your brain at its peak and have you meet new people.
2. Practice Mindfulness To Preserve Your Memory
Mindfulness is the practice of observing your thoughts and feelings without judging them. This requires you to have control over your emotions.
Observing your mind from a distance is a great way to focus on the present and live in the moment. It also does wonders for your brain.
Unfortunately, humans are the only mammals capable of self-inducing their fight-or-flight system with their thoughts.
For instance, just by being nervous over a missed deadline can trigger the same bodily responses as though you were facing an angry tiger with your life on the line.
To make matters worse, the body can subconsciously sustain this kind of stress for months or years after the threat is gone.
When the mind is engaged in mindfulness, it can manage this stress response and let the parasympathetic nervous system take over (4).
Mindfulness helps maintain good memory, fight brain fog and manage emotions. It can be practiced through meditation and yoga, among other things.
In short, keeping your mind engaged and managing self-induced stress are the two key habits to keeping a healthy brain.