Newly published research on keeping the human brain sharp underscores the old adage “use it or lose it.”
A research paper published last month in the journal Brain Sciences by scientists in Norway examines the key factors involved in maintaining a person’s brain function as they age. They analyzed previous research on brain health, offering 101 references to articles on how to keep the brain’s gray and white matter — the keys to our nervous system — in shape.
“Three factors stand out if you want to keep your brain in its best shape,” Hermundur Sigmundsson, a professor in the department of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), said in a statement.
These factors, exercise, social relationships and strong interests, “help develop and maintain the basic structures of our brain as we age,” Sigmundsson said.
3 factors to keep the brain’s gray and white matter in shape
Researchers note how the brain should function best — think learning, remembering and reasoning — when gray and white matter are kept “in shape.”
Gray matter in the brain is necessary for cognitive functions. It refers to areas in the brain where nerve cells — known as neurons — are concentrated, according to Christopher M. Feeley, PhD, professor of neurology and psychiatry and director of the section of behavioral neuroscience at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Philly was not involved in the research article.
White matter is made up of billions of axons, which are like long cables that carry electrical signals and connect to each other at junctions called synapses. Many axons are insulated with myelin, a layer of mostly fat that speeds communication between neurons — which is critical for all brain functions, Feeley explains.
The comprehensive paper notes how physical fitness is important for peak brain health.
“An active lifestyle helps develop the central nervous system and counteract brain aging,” according to Sigmundsson and colleagues.
Connections also help. Being with people, such as through conversation or physical contact, supports good brain function.
“Relationships with and interactions with other people contribute to a number of complex biological factors that can prevent the brain from slowing down,” Sigmundsson said.
finally, passion and strong interests can go a long way. This could include learning a new instrument or other hobby and taking on new challenges.
“Passion or a strong interest in something can be the decisive, driving factor that makes us learn new things,” Sigmundsson said. “Over time, this affects the development and maintenance of our neural networks.”
FILE – A man holds a cello on March 29, 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Horacio Villalobos#Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
Sigmundsson, who collaborated with master’s student Benjamin H. Diebendahl and associate professor Simone Grassini of the University of Stavanger on the paper, emphasized how people need to exercise their brains to keep them from falling apart.
“Brain development is closely related to lifestyle,” he said. “Exercise, relationships and passion help develop and maintain the basic structures of our brains as we age.”
This story was reported by Cincinnati.