Reawakening The Brain

//Reawakening The Brain

Reawakening The Brain

Out with friends on Saturday night I asked myself this: why are the bars filled mostly with young people? The answer came with a jolt. Rita, you turn 60 this year. Most people (especially out on a Saturday night) are younger than you.

So here it is March, Brain Awareness Month, or Week (next), depending on your google search. And my brain – like it or not, deny it or not – is aging.

“We even talk slower,” says “Our memory starts to fail, especially the short-term form of memory ability that is so crucial for learning new things. Brain-scan technology reveals aging can cause the brain to shrink . . . The challenge for aging individuals is to reduce the rate of their decline.”

Talk slower? Memory starts to fail? The incredible shrinking brain? Yikes. As an aging individual, I’m down (or up, depending on your preferred lingo) for reducing the rate of this decline!

Apparently there are a couple of causes for this mental decay. Diminished blood flow in small vessels plugged by cholesterol or ruptured by high blood pressure is one. Another? “. . . the lifetime cumulative effect of oxidative free radicals that result from energy metabolism,” according to Huh?

Well, despite your age, you best read on because Psychology Today also says “research shows a lifetime of vigorous learning helps prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease.”

Turns out the brain is a bit of a hog when it comes to oxygen. It only weighs about 3.5 pounds, but uses 20% of the body’s oxygen. Consequently, it’s subject to damage from inflammatory chemicals from time to time. Two common causes are infections, such as colds and flu, and diets that are deficient in antioxidants.

I personally can’t seem to do anything about colds and flu (I’m congested again right now), but I can always (“I think I can, I think I can,” says The Little Engine That Could) alter my diet. Here’s a quick list of foods that fight inflammation: tomatoes, fruits (strawberries, blueberries, goji berries, elderberries, cranberries, blackberries, oranges and cherries), nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds, etc), olive oil, leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards, etc), fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines). Inflammatory foods to limit or stay away from? Fried foods like French fries (dang!), sodas, refined carbs (white bread, pastries), lard, processed meats. On I even found a list of the top ten antioxidant herbs: clove, cinnamon, oregano, turmeric, cocoa, cumin, parsley, basil, ginger and thyme.

A proper diet not only helps control inflammation, but it also has a positive affect on cholesterol levels and blood pressure, threats mentioned above. The other big two things you need? To maintain smarts and productivity? A good night’s sleep. Exercise. Good for the body, good for the brain too as you’re well aware if you’ve ever experienced that endorphin rush while on a long run, or coming down the cardio curve while doing an aerobic class, like the type I teach, Jazzercise. Calling mental and physical exercise “The Golden Duo”, says, “. . . dancing, an activity with both physical and mental demands has had a higher impact on cognitive functioning over exercise or mental tasks alone, indicating that the best brain health workouts involve those that integrate different parts of the brain such as coordination, rhythm, and strategy.”

Sure, genes and luck play a part in how well we age, but exercise, diet and mental activity can seriously impact this. “Two genes have already been identified that become expressed as new memories are formed.”

Our brains are aging. Some of my friends are already retired, while others rapidly prepare. I’m thinking maybe we should call this life transition by another name? I mean, the definition of retire, besides “leave one’s job and cease to work”, is “to withdraw from action”, RETREAT, “to move back”, RECEDE. Sounds like we’re heading in the wrong direction here. How about reawakening?

I was pretty inspired when I read an article in the Londoner recently called “A colourful retirement isn’t out of reach”. It’s about Audrey Cooper, owner of ArtWithPanache, an art gallery downtown. She started painting when she was 76. She wears funky glasses and looks anything but her age, which is now 90!

Some other examples of people committed to lifelong learning: Leo Tolstoy learned to ride a bike at 67, Queen Victoria began learning Hindustani (Hindi language) at 68, Somerset Maugham wrote his last book at 84.

Eat well, sleep well, exercise and learn well throughout your entire life. Your brain will thank you and serve you long past (and because of) your reawakening.



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