Brain Plasticity and Adapting: The Secrets to Healthy Brain Aging according to Science
This guest was none other than the brilliant Stephanie Raffelock, self-described novelist, essayist, blogger, wife, dog-mommy, dancer and dreamer. She’s also the author of A Delightful Little Book on Aging which proudly tells the story of the journey into older age with the help of wisdom, wit and a philosophy of gratitude.
The book has been described as a “heart-warming companion for anybody who wishes to age without sugar-coating the losses while continuing to live life with an open spirit” (Andrew F. Polard)
Stephanie chatted to Dr. Max Cynader (our resident brain-geek) to talk about her experiences of helping herself and others to age positively.
We’ll be sharing Stephanie’s story and inspiring tales of changing the conversation about getting older. This is part one of our conversation with Stephanie.
Plasticity and Adaptability: The Secrets to Healthy Aging
Stephanie and Dr. Max discuss how to keep the brain and body moving as we age, and you might just be surprised by what exercise is most effective at promoting the growth of new neurons.
A baby’s brain is hugely plastic, making zillions (the scientific term, naturally) of neurons in just the first few months. Everything is new and the brain has to be capable of absorbing and creating links to file away all this new information. For a long time, researchers believed that the brain stopped creating new neurons at around five years old, and that was it, just an inevitable cognitive decline as these precious neurons die off. Fortunately, this simply isn’t the case. Dr. Max and Stephanie shared their experiences of the importance of plasticity and adaptability to healthy aging and how to keep those neurons firing.
Use It or Lose It
“The word that kept coming up for me is concretization. How damaging concretization is on every level. On a physical level, you get concretization through plaquing in the veins and things get hardened to the arteries. If you don’t exercise, muscles get tight, tissue doesn’t do what it used to do in your 20s and 30s. It’s much more brittle. For the brain, it’s about keeping cognitive fluidity in their life.”
Stephanie sees this ‘hardening’ as an avoidable part of aging, and one that needn’t restrict the sorts of physical and mental exercise you can pick up and continue as you get older. To quote a much-used phrase, ‘use it or lose it.’ The problem is, she says, is that modern medicine doesn’t pay much heed to this type of lifestyle-based healthcare. The word ‘doctor’ originally meant teacher, and that is not always the case anymore.
“The doctor is not somebody to give you a pill to take care of something instantaneously. A doctor is someone that should be a teacher and a guide. So, when that doesn’t happen, then companies like Synaptitude can flourish because you’ve got to get the information from somewhere that validates you on a scientific level that you’re headed in the right direction.”
If you target cognitive training to your weak spots, you can reduce your risk of dementia by up to 50%. It’s much better than any drug on the market. The Synaptitude Lifestyle Assessment is a free tool for determining how your brain is performing right now, and if it might be time to get moving; for your wellbeing, of course. As you get older, your brain continues to make neurons and strengthen connections when you engage in cognitively stimulating activities. Therefore, using your brain to adapt and respond to new experiences and learning is critical to its continued plasticity. Hobbies, adventures and education are treatments that should be being prescribed by medical practitioners to people as they age.
Exercise for the Brain and Body
One other thing that doctors can do to keep people aging well is encouraging more exercise.
“You can make more neurons next week if you want to. You can double or triple the number of new neurons you make next week by doing one thing. And that one thing is very simple – physical exercise.” Dr Max
Cardio exercise, balance, and stretching are all important. But what is the one type of exercise that created the most new neurons? Resistance training, using body weight, free weights or weight machines. That’s not to say that you can skip a good walk every day, but if you want a sure-fire way of getting those neurons popping, resistance training is an excellent choice. However, Stephanie is mindful of limitations:
“I don’t do anything [high impact] anymore because I have some disc degeneration in my lower back, but it doesn’t preclude things like walking or hiking. It doesn’t preclude things like swimming so I can keep my upper body strength, lower body strength.” Stephanie
It’s all about listening to and getting to know your body.
To keep mind and body plastic, it’s all about keeping them active. Whether that’s mental exercise or physical movement, you’ll keep growing new neurons and strengthening muscles like a newborn (ish).
The Synaptitude Lifestyle Assessment is a free tool for determining how your brain is performing right now, and if it might be time to get a bit silly or try something new; for your wellbeing, of course.
Find more information on Stephanie Raffelock, and her upcoming book release by visiting her website. Thanks for the conversation Stephanie from Team Synaptitude 🙂