What are the ways of keeping the brain young and resilient during the aging process? Scientists are starting to discover that your approach towards daily life can make a profound difference on how quickly your brain ages.
In a recent MPR News interview with host Kerri Miller, two scientists revealed some interesting insights from their research into aging. According to Miller’s first guest, Ellen Langer, sustained curiosity is vital in keeping your mind sharp. Langer is a psychologist, founder of the Langer Mindfulness Institute and author of Counter Clockwise.
The second guest on Miller’s show, Alexandra Touroutoglou, is a neurology instructor at Harvard. She has been involved in research that examines the lifestyles of “superagers.” She has discovered that this remarkable group of elderly adults in their 60s and 70s have memory abilities similar to 20-year-olds.
Both researchers agree that we have much more control over brain health than we think. Here are their three secrets to keeping the brain young.
1. Active Mindfulness
In her research, Langer discovered that actively noticing and paying attention to everything around us leads to more engagement in life. This practice of mindfulness helps us discover new things. We gain a new perspective on life. This makes life more exciting and interesting. As a result, the mind remains youthful because it stays ever-curious.
“What we’ve found over 40 years of research is [that], the more mindful people are, the longer they live, the healthier they are, the happier they are. It affects virtually everything.” – Ellen Langer, the Langer Mindfulness Institute (source)
2. Accept Challenges
As a person ages, it is inevitable that specific regions of the brain, such as ones associated with memory, will atrophy. But according to Touroutoglou, there are other regions in the brain that can compensate for this deterioration. The regions involved with emotions and motivation may help us perform exceptionally, even as the brain ages. By becoming emotionally connected to certain tasks and challenges, you’re keeping the brain young and resilient as you age.
Scientists have long known that the brain needs challenges to stay “fit.” We often think that these challenges fall within a certain category of difficulty and include tasks such as learning a new language or playing an instrument. Langer’s research has shown this isn’t necessarily the case.
Because the difficulty one finds in accomplishing a particular task is very personal and subjective, all tasks are potentially interesting and challenging. It depends on how you engage in a task if it will affect your brain. As long as something is personally challenging, the activity will engage the brain and affect you positively.
3. Think Young and Positive
Research continues to pile showing the amazing power of our thoughts. In the interview, Langer discusses several studies where she’s observed the affect that thoughts can have on the body. She gives one example: a study of chamber maids who did not realize that their work is synonymous to exercise. Some of the maids were trained to understand how their work tasks match up to specific exercises. This group experienced significant physiological changes when compared to the maids who did not associate their work with exercise. These changes included lower blood pressure, weight loss, and improved body mass index.
The same power of thought applies to keeping the brain young. If you start thinking that your memory is going, you start colluding against yourself. What you tell yourself is vital to how your brain will change as you age.
It’s important to set aside the stereotypes that we’ve created about what it means to age. Sometimes even the words we use, such as “growing old,” can be harmful. Consider your aging process as a new stage of growth and discovery.
Keeping the Brain Young is Accessible to All
Mindset has a very profound effect on the body, as well as the brain. As long as you are diligent at doing something and remain positive and curious, you, and your brain, will reap the benefits. You have control over your being and over your aging.
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