How to Anti Age Your Brain | Herbst BlueStar | Sanlam Financial Planners Pretoria

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#YouthMonth - How to anti-age your brain

Mental decline is one of the most feared consequences of ageing. But it’s not inevitable, and the lifestyle choices we make can have a profound impact in safeguarding our minds.

Perhaps it’s a face and name you’re struggling to remember, or a past event you can’t recall as clearly as you used to. Is it simply a case of brain fog, or the early signs of something more serious? Much like our bodies, our brains naturally decline with age, impacting mental abilities like memory, reasoning, learning and concentration.

While the onset age for cognitive decline varies, interventions generally target those who are 60 years and older. However, a 2020 Lancet study highlights that addressing lifestyle factors right from childhood through to late life can prevent or delay up to 40% of dementia cases – dementia being a general term for the loss of cognitive functions.

With the number of people affected by dementia expected to triple from 50 million in 2017 to 152 million by 2050, caring for the most complex part of our bodies is imperative in an age where life expectancy continues to extend.

Where to start?

Diet and nutrition

By combining what experts believe to be two of the healthiest diets – the Mediterranean and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) – researchers have developed a diet to help improve brain function and prevent dementia.

The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet emphasises consuming whole grains, vegetables, leafy greens, beans, berries and fish, while minimising foods that are higher in saturated fats (like pastries and chips), highly processed goods, red meats and alcohol consumption.

Increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids through fish, nuts, seeds and supplements is also recommended to support cognitive function and your general mood. Due to the strong gut-brain connection, what you eat can be a key factor in maintaining not just brain health but mental wellbeing too.

Physical activity

Good brain health means more than the absence of disease; it includes a state of wellbeing where individuals feel able to cope with the normal stresses of life. Here, exercise plays a vital role.

As we get older, our brains naturally decrease in the production of Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein in the brain and nerves that supports the growth of new brain cells and synapses, crucial for learning, memory and behaviour. Exercise increases levels of BDNF and is therefore important to continue throughout adulthood.

This doesn’t necessarily require you to do anything drastic – The World Health Organisation recommends a brisk 30-minute walk three to five times a week. Studies have also shown that 20 minutes of moderate-intensity swimming, often touted as mindful exercise, can improve short- and long-term memory.

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Mental play

Harvard Health suggests that engaging in new and challenging activities can bolster cognitive skills. Effective brain training should follow three guidelines:

1. Challenge your mind and body

The brain thrives on novelty, trying something completely new will increase your skill set and knowledge. To maximise the cognitive benefits of these activities, it’s important to pair them with regular exercise. Outdoor activities like golf or Padel are excellent examples of this. The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity weekly or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity for the most benefit.

2. Engage in complex activities

Regularly engaging in problem-solving exercises that require critical thinking, like chess or learning a new language or instrument, stimulate the brain, keeping it younger for longer. Try using language-learning apps like Duolingo for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. This has been shown to improve cognitive scores. Or what about upskilling with an online course?

3. Practice makes it permanent

Consistent practice, not just aiming for mastery, strengthens brain function. For instance, a 2012 study on consistent meditation showed how long-term, deliberate mental exercise can enhance brain connectivity and cognitive efficiency.

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