We have about 100 billion neurons (what we sometimes call “brain cells”). For decades, it was believed that the neurons we had at birth were the ones we got for our entire lives. But, beginning in the 1980s and moving forward, research suggests that, yes, we can and do create new neurons as we age.
“Neurogenesis is the way our bodies create new neurons in the brain, mainly occurring in the hippocampus,” says Bryan Bruno, MD, medical director at Mid City TMS. “Many different kinds of neurons are created during this process in embryonic development. And this phenomenon continues throughout our lives.
If we pay attention to how this happens and the activities that best support neurogenesis, we may be able to keep sharp as we age and perhaps prevent or delay dementia in our later years. Here’s how.
Just like our bodies need aerobic exercise, so do our brains. “It’s cool how analogous our brains are to our muscles,” says Cathy Spencer-Browning, a human movement expert and vice-president of programming and training at MOSSA, a group fitness firm.
“Like muscle fibers breaking down and rebuilding to create stronger muscles, our neurons break down, then recover and become stronger and more resilient. Yes, our brain’s anatomy can change when we exercise.”
The blood pumping to the brain during exercise, be it a bike ride, a hike, or even sex, can be a boost for neurogenesis, says Ellen Albertson, PhD, author of Rock Your Midlife (Tiger Wellness, 2021).
Try new things
Bruno and other experts agree that the best way to maintain the brain’s plasticity is to learn something new. Every single day. It doesn’t matter what it is, but it does matter that it is new, because it is about the process, not the product.
Feed the brain
Albertson, who is also a registered dietitian nutritionist, says diet plays a role, too. Many experts, including Albertson, consider a Mediterranean diet, high in whole plant foods and occasional seafood, to be a brain-friendly approach.
Look for foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can boost memory. Salmon, walnuts, and leafy greens are among the smart (pun intended) ingredients. Foods high in antioxidants, such as (again) leafy greens, plus berries and dark chocolate, can reduce inflammation and slow brain aging, she says.
Because adrenal glands produce and release more cortisol when we’re stressed, more cortisol may have an effect on both memory and cognitive function. A 2020 paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that chronic stress can result in a loss of brain synapses related to changes in plasticity.
Consider a brain-boosting supplement
Remember, always check with your health care practitioner before trying a new supplement, especially if you take prescription or over-the-counter medications, other supplements, or have a medical condition, including being pregnant or nursing.
- Lemon balm
- Ginkgo biloba
- Gotu kola
By Margaret Littman
BetsyHealth Note: This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Consult your healthcare provider before trying a supplement, especially if you have a medical condition, including being pregnant or nursing, take prescription or over-the-counter medications, or are planning on having surgery.
Article copyright 2023 by Alive Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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