Sorry ladies, but age is no longer an excuse. Learning is not the domain of the young and you can learn new things no matter what age. So says neuroscience. Technology has greatly contributed to the development and findings of neuroscience and real-time brain imaging in recent years. Let’s explore some of the findings.
Of course, no one science has the answer to all our questions and much of the findings have been overhyped and exaggerated. However, neuroscience has massively enhanced our understanding of how the breathtaking marvels of the human brain works. Of equal importance is that it goes a long way in helping us understand how the brain changes with age.
I mentioned the idea of a mental gym for the brain in my previous post and that is more or less what neuroscience advises us to do. There are a number of activities that have been proved by neuroscience to have positive effects on our brains, which also has the added benefit in preventing neurodegenerative disease. One such activity is the simple act of daily walking.
Another activity with significant benefits is that of dancing. When we dance the brain works to co-ordinate the many moves required by the muscles and joints. It requires the brain cells to communicate with other parts of the brain to perform the intricate movements required when dancing.
Our brains are malleable, known as neuroplasticity, which means we are able to build up our brains by forming new connections. The adage of ‘use it or lose it’ also applies to the gray matter of our brains and by using and exercising our brains we are able to boost our brain’s connectivity. What we do or don’t do with our brains changes the architecture of the brain.
Neuroscience reveals that the age of our brains is not what is of importance, but what we do with it. Exercise such as walking and dancing has the benefit of contributing to reducing the occurrence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by keeping the mind sharp and rewiring the neural pathways of the brain. Other mental activities that require intense mental focus, such as learning a new language, also affect the neural wiring of the brain.
Hitherto the popular belief has been that our genes play a significant role in what we may experience later in life, such as disease, baldness and so forth. However, the new study of epigenetics has shown that our mental activities can have a powerful impact on our genes. Together with lifestyle choices, thought patterns have the ability to turn certain genes on or off.
Although stress is a fact of life, how we deal with stress can contribute to the ageing of the brain. A brain that is constantly in fight or flight mode when dealing with stress will shrink and age faster than a brain that deals more effectively with stress. I have mentioned the benefits of meditation or mindfulness in previous posts and the reason it works is that it helps us to deal with stress more positively, thereby protecting the brain from ageing.
Of all the many activities that we can and should engage in for the purpose of protecting and developing our brains, meditation is scientifically proven to be the most effective. Meditation builds up the ability of the brain to maintain a positive sense of well-being during stress. The inverse is also true. If we continue to focus on negativity and respond to stressful situations in a fight or flight mode, we will contribute to the damage that is inflicted on our brains.
As the brain learns by doing, the older brain is proven to be more affective in finding solutions. Although we lose certain abilities of the brain such as some short-term memory loss as we age, we gain the ability of using and developing other parts of the brain. It is within our power to choose activities, thoughts and an attitudes that will strengthen and develop our brains into middle age and beyond.
As with anything, there is always the flipside to the coin and neuroscience is no different. The future potential of neuroscience could be scary in the wrong hands. However, for the moment we can take comfort in the knowledge that getting older does not mean losing our mental capacities.
We continue to have the ability to learn new things, if we so wish. The mental fitness of our brains is significantly dependent on how we choose to use and exercise our brains. The bottom line is that healthy eating, a positive attitude, relaxation, social connections, continuous learning and regular exercise builds long-term healthy brains.
So dig out those dancing or walking shoes out and get moving!
For inspiration, read the account of two female pilots from the Second World War under the tab, Inspirational Women.