The brain is one of the most important, largest, and compound organs in the body. It is made up of specific systems that work together and consists of 100 billion nerves that communicate in trillions of connections called synapses.
There are several parts of the brain that work together which are:
- The cortex is the most outer layer of the brain which is responsible for thinking and voluntary movements
- The brain stem is between the spinal cord and the rest of the brain. It controls certain functions such as sleep and breathing
- The cerebellum is at the back and bottom of the brain. Coordination and balance are reliant on this part of the brain
- The basal ganglia which is a group of structures in the centre which are responsible for sending messages to other areas of the brain
It is also separated into several lobes:
- Frontal lobes which are used for judgement, solving problems and motor function
- Parietal lobes which direct body position, handwriting and sensation
- Temporal lobes which are responsible for memory and hearing
- Occipital lobes which involve the brains visual processing system
It is essential that we keep our brain healthy and able to function properly in order to keep it young, and to live a long and fulfilled life. To do this, we might need to revaluate certain habits and lifestyle factors which could be putting us at risk of destroying our brains health and functioning.
What happens with our brain normally, how fast does the brain age?
The brain is the most multiplex part of the human body as it is responsible for many different functions such as emotions, behaviour, body movement and intelligence. It controls our ability to eat, sleep, think, feel, see, hear, move, and is even responsible for our breathing.
It is a delicate mass of supportive nerves and tissues which are connected to the spinal cord. Some of the nerves are linked to the ears, eyes, and other parts of the head. The brain is also aligned with other parts of the body through the spinal cord to allow certain functions such as walking. We also rely on our brain to form our personality.
The brain is the most essential organ in the central nervous system and human body. Without it, we would not be alive. It works by groups of nerves called neurotransmitters communicating with each other to send messages to other parts of the body. Signals are received from the body's sensory organs and information is delivered to the muscles.
Although, the brain is complex and is always working to ensure the body functions properly, it cannot multitask. The brain switches between tasks which may cause things to take longer to complete and may also cause us to make mistakes. It can also create 23 watts of electrical power which is the equivalent to a small lightbulb.
The brain is always working 24/7 even as we sleep and never takes a break. As we sleep, the brain works to reserve new information and remove any toxic waste. Nerve cells rejuvenate and reorganize, cells are repaired, energy is restored and molecules like hormones and proteins are released to ensure the body is able to function correctly when we wake up.
The brain triples in size during the first year of life and reaches full maturity at the age of 25. As we age, our brain volume shrinks, especially in the frontal cortex. Ageing can cause certain cells in the brain to become stiff which can then affect our cognitive abilities and memory and cause them to decline. The ability to store new information such as recalling names, numbers and passwords can take longer. Other functions such as problem-solving, and processing speed can reduce with age. We may also have difficulty with our attention span and find it difficult to focus as we age causing us to become easily distracted and find it hard to hold a conversation.
As the brain shrinks and faces dramatic changes, we may be more susceptible to suffering from certain illness and conditions such as stroke, Alzheimer's, and high/low blood pressure as we age due to a decline in the brain's ability to function as it should.
What possibilities do we have to keep the brain young?
Even though our brain changes as we age causing a reduction to our mental function and cognitive abilities, there are possibilities to keep our brain young and to maintain our overall health and wellbeing. We could do this by keeping our brain active through mental stimulation by doing things like puzzles, word searches, jigsaws, and maths problems. Keeping the brain active can help stimulate new nerve cells and develop neurological plasticity which can build up the brain and keep it healthy.
Other possibilities could involve changing certain lifestyle factors such as getting more exercise, eating healthily, quitting smoking and alcohol, improving cholesterol and blood sugar, taking care of our emotions, and protecting our head.
By reducing our blood sugar, we minimise our risk of developing diabetes, which is a high-risk factor for dementia. High levels of cholesterol also dramatically increase the risk for dementia.
If we are prone to anxiety, depression and poor mental health and do not take good care of our emotions, then we are more likely to perform poorly on tests and our cognitive ability will be significantly reduced as we age. Therefore, taking care of our mental health and getting plenty of restful sleep is essential for keeping our brain young.
Moderate to severe head injuries even without causing concussion can also lead to cognitive impairment. We can minimise the risk of head injuries though by wearing a helmet when riding a bike or wearing a seatbelt when driving.
The negative effects of bad habits and health conditions
Bad habits and health conditions can damage the brain, causing a decline in cognitive function and increasing our risk of developing certain diseases such as stroke, diabetes, brain tumours and dementia.
The nutrients in food have a direct impact on the brain and eating a poor diet can have a negative effect on our brain's ability to function correctly and put us at a higher risk of developing symptoms of early on-set dementia.
While some stress can be healthy, too much, or chronic stress can negatively affect the brain's health as it causes the cortisol level in the brain to remain high which can lead to a decline in memory and mental ability.
Living a sedentary lifestyle with a lack of exercise can cause depression which can lead to a cognitive impairment, cardiovascular disease, and other risk factors which can damage the brain.
Lack of sleep results in fatigue, lack of concentration, irritability and poor mental health which are all causes of reduced cognitive function and poor memory.
Over-stimulation, too much screen time and multitasking can all affect how well the brain can work as it can quickly become overwhelmed and cause irritability and anxiety when consumed with too much information.
Another bad habit which can damage the brain's health is consistently listening to music too loud using headphones as this can cause hearing loss over time which is also associated with brain problems such as loss of brain tissue and Alzheimer's.
The positive effects of the right diet
Studies have shown that having a healthy balanced diet which is rich in fruits, vegetables and wholegrains is crucial to our brain's health as it can protect us from age-related cognitive problems like early on-set dementia as well as the shrinkage of brain tissue. Having a healthy diet can also reduce the risk of developing certain health problems such as diabetes and heart disease which have been known to have a negative impact on the brain.
Food's high in nutrients like vitamins D, B and E, omega-3 fatty acids and flavonoids are essential for good brain health because they help to maintain our cognitive abilities as we get older and help to keep our brain young. A Mediterranean diet is great for brain health because it is high in these nutrients and contributes to a higher life expectancy and reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, certain cancers and brain problems like memory loss and cognitive decline.
Food's rich in these nutrients could include fruits, vegetables, cereals, nuts, fish, olive oil, egg yolk, milk, and dark chocolate.
The positive effects of physical exercise
Physical exercise is important for good brain health as it can help improve our memory and thinking, gives us more energy, better sleep as well as boosting our mood and improving our emotional wellbeing. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain which is a ‘feel good' chemical which helps to boost our mood and makes us feel more energetic. This has a positive impact on our memory and helps our brain to stay young as we can also sleep better and feel more positive and relaxed.
By participating in physical exercise regularly for around 15-30 minutes can significantly reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, and stress which have all been known to have a poor impact on the brain's health. It can also help to improve our self-esteem and confidence which are also crucial for good brain health as it makes us feel strong, powerful, and good about ourselves and therefore has a positive impact on our brain, helping it to stay healthy and young.
Physical exercise could involve anything like walking, yoga, aerobics, dancing, gently stretching or anything that you enjoy doing.
The positive effects of mental exercise
Mental exercise and keeping the brain active and stimulated is just as important as physical exercise in helping to keep it young as it is known to improve memory and thinking. It can help to protect against certain health problems such as dementia and stroke. This is due to the fact that mental exercise can increase the blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the brain. Mental activity also acts as a signal to encourage the expression of the brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor which is a protective chemical that indicates growth and the survival of neurons. Therefore, this chemical is essential for good brain health as it affects learning and attention. Mental activity also help to reduce the risk of psychological and neurological problems and keep the brain young.
Mental exercise could involve anything that helps keep the mind stimulated and active such as puzzles, maths problems, memory tasks, reasoning training and information processing tasks.
The positive effects of being socially active
Humans are social beings, and we crave social interaction and connection with others in order to function well and live a fulfilled live because we were born into social groups and live our whole life being part of a society. Research has shown that having meaningful relationships with family and friends and participating in social activities can have a positive effect on our brain health because it can help us to maintain our cognitive abilities as we age. Being socially engaged can also help to reduce the risk of developing dementia. The quality and purpose of our relationships and social interactions are important for good brain health.
Evidence has shown that loneliness and lack of social activity can cause a loss of thinking skills and reduction in cognitive ability as we get older. However, there are different ways we can stay connected and maintain social activities to ensure we keep our brain young which could involve joining a club or social group based on activities we enjoy such as a book club, going to an exercise class, volunteering, and helping others, maintaining regular contact with family and friends, and digital contact through emails, texts, and phone calls.
The brain is complex, and it does shrink as we age, but there are many things we can do which have been covered in this article to maintain our brain's health, keep it young and prevent the risk of certain health problems like dementia, stroke, cancers, and heart disease. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet rich in nutrients, getting plenty of physical and mental exercise, and being socially active are all essential to keep our brain young and healthy.