Not so little grey cells

Oct
21
2016
by
Lynne McTaggart
/
1
Comments

Tell your doctor that you have to search harder to recall the names of distant friends or remember where you last placed your keys, and he’s likely chalk it up to ‘mild cognitive decline’ and tell you to get used to the inevitable slippery slope of ageing.

He’d be resoundingly wrong. The latest brain evidence demonstrates the astonishing likelihood that the brain is far more malleable than originally thought, with the capacity to grow new brain cells and to make new neural connections throughout your life, even in your twilight years.

In fact, scientists are now discovering that the brain can not only stay sharp, but be enhanced at any point in life. So malleable are those little grey cells that you can increase the rate at which new cells grow by three to five times—even in old age.

The question is no longer whether it’s possible to regenerate your brain, but the best way to do so, for there is a wide variation in this capacity, called ‘neurogenesis’, depending on how you live your life.

Tell your doctor that you have to search harder to recall the names of distant friends or remember where you last placed your keys, and he’s likely chalk it up to ‘mild cognitive decline’ and tell you to get used to the inevitable slippery slope of ageing.

He’d be resoundingly wrong. The latest brain evidence demonstrates the astonishing likelihood that the brain is far more malleable than originally thought, with the capacity to grow new brain cells and to make new neural connections throughout your life, even in your twilight years.

In fact, scientists are now discovering that the brain can not only stay sharp, but be enhanced at any point in life. So malleable are those little grey cells that you can increase the rate at which new cells grow by three to five times—even in old age.

The question is no longer whether it’s possible to regenerate your brain, but the best way to do so, for there is a wide variation in this capacity, called ‘neurogenesis’, depending on how you live your life.

The power of brain foods
Not surprisingly, diet plays a major role in helping the brain—chiefly the hippocampus, located near the center of the brain within the two temporal lobes on either side of your head—renew its own cells.

A high-sugar, highly processed diet is undoubtedly a cognitive killer, whereas a diet bursting with whole foods, omega fatty acids and plant polyphenols is superfood for the brain.

Psychologist Brant Cortright, who has researched brain enhancement for his new book, The Neurogenesis Diet and Lifestyle, provides evidence of how foods like blueberries, turmeric, coconut oil and essential fatty acids feed the brain, and also discusses the powerful and synergistic role that exercise plays when combined with an optimal diet.

Like food, some forms of exercise are better for your brain than others, with aerobic exercise and walking scoring high.

Those are the two main pillars of a healthy brain. But there are several others that help to keep your brain young. Minimizing stress and maintaining strong social links protects against mental disorders like depression, and also slows cognitive decline.

A pioneering spirit
Another important factor has to do with what scientists refer to as an ‘enriched environment’, which means a life full of surprises, variation and stimulation, all of which help the brain to make new connections.

Studies of ageing animals show that environmental enrichment—a living area full of other animals, and fun and complex things to do—actually increases cortical thickness, brain cell growth, and even dendritic branching and density in the spinal cord.

A similar thing happens in people who maintain a sense of curiosity throughout life. In 1991, the medical journal Nursing Forum published a study examining the factors that had contributed to the longevity of 17 war nurses who’d lived through the American Civil War, including Clara Barton and Louisa Mae Alcott.

Being married, having a vibrant social life, devoting yourself to a life of service and having a strong faith all played a part, but maintaining a ‘pioneering spirit’ and a constant interest in new things appeared to be an important key to an overflowing fountain of youth.

Thinking young
But perhaps the greatest X factor of all is your own perception of how old you are. In 1981, eight men in their 70s and 80s attended a five-day retreat at a monastery in Peterborough, New Hampshire, organized by Harvard University, throughout which they were asked to pretend they were 22 years younger than they actually were.

When they got to the retreat, they were immersed in constant reminders from two decades earlier: old issues of LIFE magazine and The Saturday Evening Post, shows on TV that had been popular in the late 1950s, radio stations playing Perry Como and Nat King Cole.

The men were also asked to discuss events that had been current then too: Fidel Castro’s sudden ascendancy to power in Cuba; Nikita Khrushchev’s standoff with Eisenhower during his visit to the US; home runs hit by Mickey Mantle; and knockout punches by Floyd Patterson. This carried on throughout the five days of the retreat.

At the end of the retreat, the researchers took the same physiological measurements they’d taken at the start of the study, and discovered that the men had actually had grown ‘taller.’

In fact, their height, weight and gait had improved; their posture had straightened; their joints had become more flexible; and their hearing, eyesight, grip strength, memory and general cognitive function had all improved.

By the end of the five days, many of these octogenarians had given up their canes and were playing touch football.

Once they’d been reminded of their younger selves, their bodies actually became younger—and all in less than a week. And once they pretended to be younger, their brains and bodies followed suit.

All of this suggests that you—and your brain—are not only as old as you feel, but only as old as you decide to be.

Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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One comment on “Not so little grey cells”

Why wait any longer when you’ve already been waiting your entire life?

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