The brain is a fascinating organ that goes through more changes in your lifetime than any other part of your body. Within four weeks of conception, your brain starts to form. From birth to age six the brain is busy developing perception, memory, emotions, and your sense of self. The brain continues wiring itself from age 7 to 22. During this stage, essential neural connections form. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that aids in impulse control and decision-making, is fully matured. The brain is considered at its peak from ages 22 to 27. So, what does this mean for those of us over the age of 27? What happens to the brain as we age?
Adulthood: The 30's
In your 30's, memory recall, thought processing speed, and the storage space for new memories begins to decline. The number of neurons, brain cells that transmit information, decreases. You might notice it takes more time to learn new things or remember names.
Mid-Life: 40's and 50's
In your 40's and 50's, you may notice a decrease in reasoning skills and verbal fluency. Your reasoning skills might also become more challenging. However, the 40's and 50's also brings good news. At this age you experience a positive increase in moral decision-making, emotion regulation, interpreting social situations, and focusing on positive memories. In other words, you don't sweat the small stuff! Researchers attribute this to the wisdom and confidence that comes from lived experience.
The Golden Years: Aging in Your 60's, 70's, and 80's
In your 60's the brain actually begins to shrink. With increased age comes a loss of cells in critical areas of the brain. This effects your ability to recall information and learn new things. People over 65 are also at an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Aging is a natural part of life, and your brain is no exception. The good news is, there are proactive steps you can take to keep your brain healthy in every stage of life. In fact, there are lots of proactive measures you can take to protect your aging brain. Try these five steps for optimal brain health:
- Diet – Food is fuel for your body and your brain. Foods rich in vitamins and nutrients are best. Healthy fats like mono and poly-unsaturated fats can protect your brain cells. Incorporating foods like dark leafy greens, nuts, berries, avocados, salmon, and broccoli is a great way to start!
- Alcohol Consumption – Avoid excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages. Consult your doctor for guidelines on acceptable alcohol consumption.
- Smoking – Smoking prevents adequate oxygen from reaching your brain. For optimal brain health, stay smoke-free! Remember to avoid second-hand smoke too.
- Lifelong Learning – Continue to learn new things throughout your lifetime. Like a muscle, your brain needs to be exercised to stay healthy. Learn to play an instrument, do crosswords puzzles, travel to new places, and keep your childlike curiosity in full gear!
- Move It! – Moving your body, keeps your brain healthy! Just 30 minutes of exercise a day can reduce brain cell loss. It's also beneficial for your overall wellness – so get moving!