Never too early to exercise your brain
Keeping your brain healthy in your 20s can mean longer-lasting memories.
Vikki Mioduszewski Published: February 19, 2019
When you’re young, you may not even realize that your brain will start to shrink as you get older.
In fact, some studies show the brain starts losing cells as early as your 20s and progressively shrinks more rapidly after age 40.
And while there are some memories you may want to forget, there are fond ones you’d like to keep around to share with your grandchildren.
But don’t worry. There are steps you can take at a young age to help ensure you will be sharp and remember the “good old days” to share with your grandchildren.
Where to start?
"Excessive electronic use can potentially hurt our brains,” said neurologist Bryan Riggeal, MD, with Baptist Neurology. “While nothing suggests that it causes dementia, it will contribute to attention/concentration problems, which commonly presents with memory loss.”
Dr. Riggeal points to brain studies in Korea showing one or both sides of the brain can be improved with activities such as playing an instrument or participating in creative art. Concentration can be enhanced with activities such as learning a new language or reading books.
“Some of these problems may also be related to relying too much on electronic devices rather than thinking about things. This might be offset by depending less on a quick Google search,” Dr. Riggeal said.
Brain atrophy, or shrinking of the brain, is universal and there is no way to predict when it will start or how rapidly it will progress, Dr. Riggeal added.
“Once the atrophy occurs, there is really nothing that can be done currently to reverse it. Therefore, there really isn't a time that's too early to start considering possible interventions/modifications in attempts to keep the mind sharp,” he said.
While in your 20s, you should consider an active lifestyle and heart-healthy diet to lower your risks of dementia. Getting into the habit of using critical thinking skills may also stave off a decline.
“We know that the No. 1 risk factor for dementia is age,” Dr. Riggeal said. “Since there is no real way to stop the aging process, all of the emphasis is on preventing the other, lesser important risk factors including sedentary lifestyle, lack of social interactions, and vascular risk factors (high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol problems).”
Vascular problems contribute to cognitive issues, including dementia. Numerous studies published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health point to the importance of exercise at an early age to maintain a healthy brain. One study points to high-intensity cycling or long-term exercise of moderate intensity improving cognitive performance in young adults while regular exercise after 65 can also aid in reducing memory loss.
So, if you can stay active, social and heart healthy, you may be able to keep those memories around longer.
Taking these three extra steps may also help:
Keep your memory sharp: Memory training, learning to use memory clues, organizational aids and practicing inductive reasoning (critical thinking skills based on observations and experiences) have all been suggested at least in the short-term, according to Dr. Riggeal, to help with memory.
Watch what you eat: Dr. Riggeal points out that while no data convincingly states that any specific nutritional strategy can help prevent dementia, abnormal levels of some nutrients have been linked to a higher rate of dementia. There are many nutritional factors to Vitamin E, Vitamin C, selenium (a mineral found in the soil), Omega 3 fatty acids, various forms of the Mediterranean diet, B12, B6, folic acid, and others.
Get a good night’s sleep: “Sleep is crucial and can certainly contribute to memory problems by way of inattentiveness (termed pseudodementia),” Dr. Riggeal said. Studies in mice have suggested that sleep problems could potentially increase the risk of dementia though high-quality studies have not clearly defined this.
Are you or a loved one having trouble with memory loss? Baptist Health offers a range of services to help with the aging process, as well as neurological needs. To find the right provider for you, visit Baptist Neurology or Baptist AgeWell at 904.202.4AGE (4243).
U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6296262/