Ever since I stopped being a student, it seems like my mind has started falling apart. I can’t be the only who’s noticed. I’m not as quick on the uptake when I’m calculating a discount at the store, or the tip on the restaurant check. I don’t remember new people’s names as well, and I have a hard time expressing what I know about the nation’s drug abuse fiscal burden… see? That didn’t even make sense.
Your brain stops developing sometime in your 20’s, according to most studies. The prefrontal cortex is still developing between age 18 and 25. This region controls things like impulse control, self-evaluation, focusing attention, and complex planning.
However, as soon as your brain hits peak performance, certain functions start to deteriorate. The first things to go in your late 20’s and early 30’s are spatial skills, reasoning, and speed of thought. Next up is memory; it’s harder to find connections and names and recollections.
Keeping your mind active can stave off disease, make your quality of life better, and reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. So what can you do to keep your mind fit and spry once you’re done with school, and your job requires you to do the same type of busywork day in and day out?
Read Instead of Watching TV
Studies have found that reading improves connectivity in the brain, and especially exercises your language function and your ability to process movement and sensation. However, 42% of college grads will never read another book after graduation (how heartbreaking is that!)
Other studies show that reading stimulates the brain and decreases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia, especially when compared with watching tv, which dramatically increases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The beneficial effects can also be had from word puzzles, games, and cognitively engaging activities like painting or playing an instrument. So, even if reading isn’t your thing, cultivate a hobby that will keep your mind active.
Exercise Your Body
Although we usually think that exercise is something for the body, not the mind, the truth is that you can’t isolate them from each other. The way you treat your body affects the way your mind works, and vice versa. Exercise can have an amazing effect on the brain. In fact, kids who exercise regularly get better grades, are better able to focus, think creatively, and make new connections.
Exercise continues to have an effect on our brain as we age. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain, and the ability to make new nerve cells and connections within the brain. One study showed that simply walking every day improves your ability to daydream, plan for the future, remember the past, and even the ability to plan and execute a task.
There are other ways that your body’s health affects your brain, too. Eat well, and get enough sleep in order to continue to support your brain’s health.
Try Something Completely New
We’re only recently learning how much our brains love novelty. Our brains are wired to seek out brand-new things. We actually get a dopamine hit that encourages us to explore more and find more rewards when we try something new. Novelty helps us to build new connections and learn more. We used to think that you were born with a finite amount of brain cells. But now we know that brain cells are actually created throughout our life (called neurogenesis) and neuroplasticity (the ability for your brain to actually change over time) can be cultivated by exercising your brain and trying out new things periodically.
So, continue to try out new things as you age! Travel somewhere new, take a class for a skill you’ve always wanted. Best of all, meet new people! Social connectivity keeps our brain active, staves off disease, and reduces stress.
One of the biggest ways to quickly age your brain and make it slower before its time is negativity and stress. Stress can dampen your memory, hamper nerve and cell growth or development. Find your own stress relief technique, like exercise, social interaction, walks in the park, daily meditation, and cultivate it as a habit of your life.
By Christine Hill