Forgot an old classmate’s name, or where you left your keys – or worse your car – we call those senior moments, but they don’t have to be. Memory loss is not inevitable as we get older, science has shown that our brains can keep functioning & firing like we’re 20-something even when we’re 60-something … all it takes is a little effort and know-how.
Our brains and memories are complex
Our brains aren’t the biggest organs – around the size of a medium cauliflower, but they are one of the most complex. While the brain accounts for only 2% of the whole body’s mass, it uses 20% of all the oxygen we breathe and as much as a fifth of the blood flowing from your heart is pumped to your brain. And if that wasn’t impressive enough … the human brain consists of approximately 100 billion neurons (which is as many cells as there are stars in the Milky Way) and about 1 quadrillion synapses, which are responsible for more than 100,000 chemical reactions that happen in the brain every second – so you want to keep it healthy!
Most of us don’t sit around thinking about our brains very often. We’re more likely to think of how tired we are, how flabby we are, or how stressed we are. We don’t start thinking about our brains until we can’t remember the names of friends or old classmates – which we try to rationalise by calling “senior moments”.
When does our memory start to decline?
Youngsters in their 20s don’t usually complain about forgetting things. But believe it or not, that’s when memory and mental energy first start to decline. You don’t necessarily notice it when you’re younger, because you have a bigger neuron stockpile to draw from, but as you approach your 60s, your stock has whittled down somewhat and trying to remember things becomes noticeably more tricky.
Give us the good news…
Here is some really good news – the reality is, that it doesn’t have to be this way at all. Scientists have discovered that regardless of age, your brain has the ability to make new neurons and build new neural pathways throughout your life. When you engage in new experiences or think in novel ways, new pathways are forged. Even as you are listening to me now, your brain is changing. In this way, science tells us that how we use and challenge our brains can significantly slow down memory loss and keep us thinking like a 20-something, even though we may not quite look like one!
A brain and memory work out?
Your brain needs to work out just as much as the rest of you, and without some regular challenging action, it’s going to get flabby. Day-to-day chores simply don’t cut it on the brain aerobics front. Studies show that cognitive decline is significantly slower for those who are more mentally active and who supplement with DHA, compared to those who don’t.
If you don’t engage your brain’s ability to problem-solve, be creative, and manipulate numbers, it’s likely your grey matter will feel underappreciated and won’t work efficiently. The key is to regularly try something new. Novel challenges present unexpected obstacles, forcing your brain to work in new ways. When your brain encounters these new challenges, it must remodel its existing circuitry and find new pathways for information processing. And if you’re thinking this stuff applies only to senior members of our population, think again. We’re all in the same boat, and it’s never too early to start getting your brain sweaty.