Researchers used to think people lost 30 percent of their neurons as they aged. Now neuroscientists say that if you’re healthy, you’ll keep most of your neurons for your entire life. Here are some of the most promising ways to keep those brain cells in top form.
Plus: Challenge your brain with our new online Word Power games
[step-list-wrapper title=”” time=””] [step-item number=”1. ” image_url=”” title=”Seek out different ideas and challenging people.” ]By middle age, your brain has developed millions of networks of neurons-pathways that are strengthened every time you recall a given memory. These pathways help you solve familiar problems more easily than your younger peers. But if you always use the same well-worn routes to process information, your brain is less likely to get the stimulation it needs to spur development of new networks. You can get that kind of stimulation from what adult-learning expert Jack Mezirow, PhD, calls a disorienting dilemma-something that shakes up your thinking. Try reading a book that challenges your long-held assumptions on a topic, seriously considering a political viewpoint other than your own, or taking up an instrument or a new language. The key is to get out of your comfort zone.[/step-item]
[step-item number=”2. ” image_url=”” title=”Use your imagination.” ]If you want to remember to buy a quart of milk on the way home from work, it can help if you imagine yourself taking it off the store shelf and paying for it. Studies by neuroscientist Denise Park, PhD, now at the University of Texas at Dallas, have shown that visualizing upcoming activities forces information into additional parts of your brain, creating a larger “neural footprint” and giving you more ways to remember what you need to do.[/step-item]
[step-item number=”3. ” image_url=”” title=”Pay attention at the start.” ] Brain scanners show that by middle age, your brain tends to have more trouble ignoring distractions in order to focus on new information, such as when you’re introduced to someone new. As a result, that person’s name may be stored in your memory less effectively. To avoid embarrassment next time you run into what’s-his-name, be extra careful to pay attention from the get-go.[/step-item]
[step-item number=”4. ” image_url=”” title=”Exercise-and then exercise some more.” ]Like your heart, your brain needs good blood flow to stay vital, and the best way to get it is through regular exercise. Neurobiologist Fred Gage, PhD, of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, has shown that physical activity even prompts the growth of new brain cells. Those baby cells may help us cope with new experiences, Gage says-and actually enjoy them.[/step-item][/step-list-wrapper]
Plus: Challenge yourself when you’re on the go with the Word Power iPhone app.
ADAPTED FROM “THE SECRET LIFE OF THE GROWN-UP BRAIN,” COPYRIGHT © 2010 BY BARBARA STRAUCH, IS PUBLISHED AT $26.95 BY VIKING, 375 HUDSON ST., NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10014