3 Ways to a New Brain for the New Year

(Back by popular demand…re-post from 1 year ago!)

It was the evening of January 1st when my oldest son garnered the family’s attention at the dinner table.

“It’s New Year’s Day,” he announced with a dramatic flair, “and I’ve got something important to tell you all.” While his tone was serious, I detected a twinkle in his eye that alerted me to his ruse. “Take note! On this day, you are older than you ever have been, and younger than you ever will be!” We all sat in solemn silence for just a moment, while a grin tickled across his cheeks. Then laughter began to peal through the dining room. (Although my 6-year-old was still perplexed: “wait, what?”)

It’s a simple concept, and yet sometimes hard to accept: we’re not getting any younger. However, this need not be a negative perspective! New medical, psychological, technical, and scientific advancements are paving the way for increased vitality as we age, and exponentially growing our access to knowledge. With so much life-giving wisdom at our fingertips, it’s high time to apply some of the changes that will fortify us now and for years to come.  Here are three simple steps we can all take to honor the years behind us and maximize those yet to come.

Eat well to live well.

Research increasingly confirms the efficacy of a Mediterranean-style diet for ensuring brain health and body fitness. In fact, the most recent issue of NeuroImage includes a compelling new study on the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. Researchers evaluated not only memory and other cognitive functions, but also blood-borne biomarkers of nutrition and brain connectivity patterns via functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). All three aspects were improved and enhanced in participants who adhered to a Mediterranean style of eating.

Motion for promotion.

As the years go by the human body naturally becomes slower and less efficient. Just as aging muscles and joints take longer to heal, the aging brain is also slower to recover from stress, lack of sleep, inflammation, or trauma. We all know that physical activity is good for the body, and new science offers compelling evidence of the neurological benefits as well. The American Academy of Neurology published a randomized trial with aging participants to examine the neurological impact of aerobic exercise for those with cognitive deficits. Researchers analyzed outcomes for participants who improved diet alone, diet and physical activity, or exercise alone. Statistical review revealed that aerobic exercise ameliorated cognitive decline and enhanced executive function in just six months.

Cheer up and laugh a little. Better yet, laugh a lot!

Media sources have long reprimanded us that mounting stress levels can wreak havoc on body and brain. So, what about the opposite? Can a cheerful outlook and increased laughter bring healing? A new research study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity offers insight on immune response and mood. Scientists evaluated immunity-reducing inflammation markers from participants who reported either a grumpy mood or cheerful mood prior to blood draw. Those with a more negative affect ultimately had higher inflammation as opposed to the cheery participants.

Even more encouraging, a study published in the journal Emotion presents a hopeful view of long-term marriage. According to the researchers, aging marital partners increasingly replace arguments and conflict with humor and laughter. The 13-year study provides evidence and reassurance that our aging emotions are increasingly more positive with each passing year. Which could translate into a more positive perspective, decreased cognitive inflammation, and immunity-boosting outcomes.

Notwithstanding my son’s theatrical delivery, his pithy statement is a timely reminder for launching into a new year. Its undeniable: with the passing of years, aging happens. And yet we are daily reaping the benefits of wisdom our years bring. What a perfect time to be alive!

MBJ
By Terissa Michele Miller, MS Psy

Check out the original research:

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.12.007

http://n.neurology.org/content/early/2018/12/19/WNL.0000000000006784

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2018.09.011

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