The brain shrinks with age resulting in poorer cognitive functions (Erikson, 2013). The prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus are main components of the brain that are involved in thinking processes, “both the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus shrink at roughly 1% to 2% annually in individuals over the age of 55” (Erikson, 2013). Although our brains shrink with age, there’s a concept called neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, that we all contain. Brain plasticity is the ability to change, adapt, and modify throughout a person’s life; it’s the ability for the brain to learn (McEwen, 2016). Your brain is constantly changing and you can be intentional to change it in the direction you want!
One way you can promote brain plasticity is through physical exercise. “… older adult athletes outperform their more sedentary peers on many different cognitive tasks, and fitter individuals are faster and more accurate on executive functioning and memory tasks” (Erikson, 2013). Not only can it promote plasticity, but exercise aids in preventing shrinkage of the brain (Erikson, 2013). In many studies, adults who were more physically active, had greater brain volumes (Erikson, 2013). This means that the prefrontal cortex as well as hippocampus are greater in size as well leading to them being stronger in function (Erikson, 2013 & Tang et al., 2015).
Another way you can promote brain plasticity is through meditation and relaxation. There are two types of meditation that studies have shown increase brain plasticity: FA (focused attention) and OM (open monitoring) (Slagter et al., 2011). Researchers have discovered structural brain changes in the areas that are affected by these meditation techniques; primarily a thicker cortex and increased gray matter (Slagter et al., 2011 & Tang et al., 2015). FA and OM are also shown to increase sustained attention and promote greater cognitive ability (Slagter et al., 2011).
One more way you promote brain plasticity is through brain boosting nutrients. Three of those nutrients include:
- Phosphoinositide: This promotes the “signal transduction system” in the brain which is the primary means for communication in the central nervous system. Phosphatidylinositol has been shown to promote brain signaling and is useful in not only diseases like depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia, but it has also been demonstrated to be effective in Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease (Pacheco et al., 1996).
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA): DHA promotes optimal cognition during development, adulthood, and aging (Weiser et al., 2016).
- Withania Somnifera (Ashwagandha): Ashwagandha is an herb that exerts a beneficial influence on the brain, the immune system and nervous system. It is anti-inflammatory and reduces stress, as well as an antitumor, antioxidant, and is rejuvenating. It modulates the immune system, and balances the endocrine system, cardiovascular system, pulmonary system, and central nervous systems (Mishra et al., 2000).
Decreasing memory and cognitive ability doesn’t need to be a reality! Your brain is always changing and can change for the better if you give it the right tools.
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