New research on the human brain indicates that, contrary to popular belief, it doesn't have to turn to mush as we get old. Senility is not a necessary part of aging. Like other parts of the body, the brain responds well to the right kinds of stimuli. That includes both mental and physical activity.
Studies have shown that, although we do lose nerve cells over the years, new cells and connections between them can form, resulting in enhanced brain function.
A report released last spring by the Institute for the Study of Aging and the International Longevity Center-U.S.A., recommends several steps to keep one's mind functioning as effectively as possibleeven into the 90s and beyond. Researches found that cognitive vitality affects all facets of one's life, allowing us to enjoy everyday life fully, maintain independent living and avoid depression.
The steps include:
Lifelong learning taking courses, reading, doing crosswords puzzles and memory exercises.
Regular exercise walking, aerobics and other types of exercise promote blood flow to the brain, nourishing the cells;
Staying active volunteering, attending social or civic events, gardening;
Stress reduction achieved through exercise, meditation and prayer.
Other important elements in promoting cognitive function are good nutrition, adequate sleep and emotional stability.
Staying active mentally and physically may do more than just help one maintain brainpower. It's also been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease. The possibility that such a link exists was uncovered by a doctor at Harvard University Medical School during research on men and women age 100 or more. One man studied had remained active and alert up until his death at age 103. An autopsy of the man's brain revealed, surprisingly, that it was laced with the same kind of tangled cells that characterize Alzheimer's disease. The doctor and other medical researchers are theorizing that, because of his mental activity, and despite his age, the man had developed new brain cells that strengthened other parts of his brain, building up a "cognitive reserve" to get around his disease. The theory needs more research, the doctor says, and plans on doing it.
Information adapted from United Seniors Health Repot