It is often thought that our brains go downhill the older we get. Actually, the opposite is true. There are so many ways in which our minds improve as we age and there is much we can do to keep them strong.
As the years of living and learning add up, we become more positive, adaptive and creative. Young brains tend to compartmentalize and use either the right or left side of the brain to process thoughts and emotions. People in midlife have more integration of the various parts of the brain and that allows us to see the bigger picture and respond to things in a more comprehensive way. One way to think of this is as wisdom. We have a greater sense of self, a more realistic view and a longer-term perspective. Our brain has developed more connections that regulate our emotions so we are less likely to be overcome by negative emotions.
There is variability, however, in each person. How we live our lives now and have lived them in the past can affect how our brain develops and adapts. Continuous learning helps our neurons and other brain tissue to keep building over time. People who have more education and more complex jobs show less decline in brain function in their later years. They tend to live independently longer and are less likely to have a long period of disability before their death. The more cognitive ability you build up over the first half or more of your life, the more you are able to adapt as normal aging affects your brain.
Environmental toxins and regular aging changes are unavoidable but our lifestyle choices affect how our brain is able to recover from the injury these cause to our neurons. Stress, smoking, inactivity, poor nutrition, excessive drugs or alcohol, obesity and other medical conditions affect our brains’ ability to function well and reduce our ability to recover from injury and aging changes.
The good news is that, the older we get, the more we tend to take control of our own lives and the less outside influences affect us. We tend to get more assertive and willing to take more risks. We realize that we can take the actions we need to take to reduce negative factors and improve positive ones. We have learned that we can handle what life throws at us and have figured out how to bring together all of the skills and knowledge we have to tackle a situation. We are also taking stock of what truly matters in life and are willing to put in the work to get what we want. Stay tuned for more about how to keep your brain healthy and improving.