“The keys to our nervous system are the gray and white matter,” said Hermundur Sigmundsson, psychology professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Gray matter is made up of neurons (nerve cells) and dendrites. White matter, meanwhile, works to facilitate contact between the cells, contributing to the transmission speed and distribution of the signals.
By keeping both gray and white matter “in shape” brain functions such as cognition, thinking skills and memory should function smoothly. In an August 2022 study published in Brain Sciences, Sigmundsson and his co-authors outlined 101 references to earlier published studies to better understand how to cultivate brain health.
The study zeroed in on three factors which the NTNU professor said are necessary for optimal brain health. These factors are physical exercise, social activity and strong passion toward interests ad hobbies. While this may seem simple, it is essential to break down these factors to better understand them.
The authors of the study stated that an active lifestyle helps develop the central nervous system and counteracts brain aging. More importantly, they noted that consistency is essential and people should do their best to get in a little movement every day. Even those who have sedentary jobs that require lots of sitting require movement every hour or so for a few minutes at a time.
While some people are more social than others, the researchers reiterated that no one is an island. So even introverts who prefer a quiet night at home to going out to party need to make solid efforts to stay in touch with the people who matter to them. It is important to find opportunities to connect with loved ones, especially for people who live alone.
Previous research showed that solitary confinement can lead to brain atrophy, as the brain thrives on social interactions and connections. According to Sigmundsson, relationships with other people and interacting with them contribute to several complex biological factors that can prevent the brain from slowing down.
Learning and passion
Physical exercises help build muscle, and the brain – being a muscle itself – also needs activity to keep itself healthy. Activities such as doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku, reading, playing cards and others can be considered cross-training for the brain. Taking up and being passionate about new hobbies or learning new skills can similarly promote lifelong cognition. However, this type of learning must not be forced. Finding something that gives passion is the way to go.
“Passion, or having a strong interest in something, can be the decisive, driving factor that leads us to learn new things,” Sigmundsson said. “Over time, this impacts the development and maintenance of our neural networks.”
Use it or lose it
Overall, the study authors summed up much of their advice through the old maxim “use it or lose it.” Sigmundsson explained that while the brain is an incredible machine of sorts, it also tends to rust or wither away if left inactive for too long. He also remarked that brain development is closely linked to one’s lifestyle.
Other studies, meanwhile, also pointed to a Mediterranean diet contributing to brain health. Individuals who follow the plant-based, whole grains, fish and healthy fat diet are found to be less likely to have Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who incorporate more meat and salt into their food. (Related: Detoxing the brain: A closer look at the effects of the keto diet on metabolism, brain health.)
Omega fatty acids that are found in extra virgin olive oil and other healthy fats are known to help cells function correctly and decrease the risk of corona artery disease. It also helps increase mental focus and slow cognitive decline in older adults.
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This video is from the Finding Genius Podcast channel on Brighteon.com.
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