It is no surprise that at some point of our life, our cognition and other mental abilities will start to deteriorate. Aging is a part of life, and this affects everyone and every brain. However, the brain’s aging process is not uniform to each individual. There are people who are over 80 years old and yet they can still study courses, do physical work, and even do their favourite hobbies without a problem.
Look at this 90-year old Japanese granny for example . Kimiko Nishimoto certainly looks old, but it seems like her brain is younger than she is. She is still able to attend photography classes, plan creative shoots, and pull off funny poses in front of the camera. This just shows that physical age is just a number, and what matters more is your mental age.
What actions can we take to slow down brain aging?
After years of working with patients and studying the brain and body connection, we found out 3 key things that can help slow down brain aging:
#1 Brain Training
Like muscles in the body, the brain needs just as much exercise and attention to keep it active, sharp, healthy, and functioning throughout your lifetime. This can be done through brain training or more commonly known as cognitive training. This refers to the use of mental exercises to target the brain’s core cognitive skills.
Activating cognitive skills are crucial because they are the skills the brain uses to read, learn and remember things. When we do any activity that promotes critical thinking such as solving puzzles, playing musical instruments or learning a new skill, we actually activate our cognitive skills. This increases the occurrence of neuroplasticity in the brain, which helps enhancing brain capacity and reduce cognitive decline . This shows that the more you use your brain, the more you can continue to use it as you grow older.
This is why the whole point of cognitive training is to activate parts of your brain that you normally don’t use. While there’s no training exercise that will work for everyone, you can always choose the activities that will stretch your mind beyond its normal capabilities. Choose what interests you, or what you truly enjoy.
#2 Having a Holistic Approach to Health
Health experts also believe that people who have maintained a holistic health approach tend to have slower brain deterioration and have overall better cognition in their elder years . By ‘holistic approach’, this means that the individual is proactive in keeping the body’s health and balance in a daily basis through proper exercise, diet, sleep, posture and other factors. These factors are equally important, and one cannot achieve optimal health without the other:
- Physical Exercise. This helps deliver blood and oxygen to the brain which is essential to its functioning. This also increases the production of endorphins, which boosts your mood while reducing stress.
- Diet. Eating a diet rich in organic vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fish is linked to a having better long-term brain health. The nutrients, antioxidants and omega 3’s that you can get from these foods improve intellectual performance and reduce the risk of dementia.
- Sleep. Sleep keeps the brain healthy by doing two things: it clears out toxic proteins that naturally build up throughout the day, and it repairs the brain’s neural wirings. Having enough sleep everyday allows our brain to rest, clean and repair.
- Posture. The way we stand, sit, and walk, can also affect our brain health. Proper alignment reduces the stress on your spine and keeps the nerve signals properly flowing from the brain to the body and vise versa.
If a holistic approach is too much of a change from your current lifestyle choices, you can start with baby steps. Just pick just one or two to adopt and progress from there. With time, it is possible to adapt all these things.
#3 Stress Management
Our primary stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, are very handy in managing short-term stressors. In some cases, it even helps us boost our brain’s ability to remember and learn new information. However the same stress hormones can significantly compromise bodily functioning, mood, and even brain health when we repeatedly and constantly experience intense stressors. For example, imagine having to deal with a deadline just for a day versus chasing deadlines every single day for the mole month. The former is doable and it might even challenge you to perform better, but as for the latter, it can surely take a toll on your brain and body.
In relation to this, a recent study shows that the hippocampus is more likely to shrink if cortisol is present for long periods of time . In addition, increased levels of cortisol over time are also associated with future memory problems and even dementia. This is exactly why stress management is essential especially if you are prone to stressors in your daily activities.
The first step to minimizing these stressors is to identify the triggers. If you are not sure what triggers your stress, then listen more to your body. Stress is often expressed by the body in a variety of ways, including health problems (headaches, fatigue), cognitive symptoms (cloudy memory or poor concentration), mood changes (feelings of irritability, tension, anxiety, depression), and behavioral changes (binge eating, drinking alcohol, insomnia).
Once you identify the triggers, it will now become clear what situations you need to be cautious of to avoid getting stressed. While total avoidance is not always applicable (of course, you cannot just quit your job because it stresses you out) there are always stress-reduction techniques that you can do to help lessen the stress that you’re feeling like meditation, relaxation, engaging in hobbies, and social support. There are also other ways where a professional can help like massage therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic.
 90-year old Insta-granny. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxOb782L0xY
 Sharon L. Naismith, M. Antoinette Redoblado-Hodge, Simon J.G. Lewis, Elizabeth M. Scott, Ian B. Hickie. Cognitive training in affective disorders improves memory: A preliminary study using the NEAR approach. 2009 Clinical Research Unit, Brain & Mind Research Institute, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia.
 Young KW., Ng P., Kwok T., Cheng D.The effects of holistic health group interventions on improving the cognitive ability of persons with mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial. Clin Interv Aging. 2017 Sep 25;12:1543-1552. doi: 10.2147/CIA.S142109. eCollection 2017.
 Justin B. Echouffo-Tcheugui, Sarah C. Conner, Jayandra J. Himali, Pauline Maillard, Charles S. DeCarli, Alexa S. Beiser, Ramachandran S. Vasan, Sudha Seshadri. Circulating cortisol and cognitive and structural brain measures.