Importance of Brain Health
The human brain is the central organ of the human nervous system, and with the spinal cord it makes up the central nervous system. The central nervous system controls most of our physical and mental activity. Needless to say, the human brain is the most vital and valuable organ in the human body as it controls so many aspects of our daily life. To retain its optimum function is by taking into account our brain health.
Brain health is an important component of your overall health. It is the foundation of your ability to communicate, make decisions, solve problems, and live a good quality and productive life.
Brain health can be affected by age-related changes however if it is neglected it may lead to neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease at a much younger age. It is therefore vital to understand what happens to our brain as we age and why brain health is important.
The brain of newborns and young kids around 3 to 6 years old are known to be like sponges as they can absorb knowledge and information a lot faster than growing adults due to their rapid brain development. Thus, the early years of a child’s life are a very important foundation for future learning and health.
Although it seems like they do not pay much attention to what we are doing, their brain growth is strongly affected by their experiences with the people surrounding them. Spending quality time and building new skills and interests with them can promote healthy brain growth and set them on the path to learning and success in school.
Neglecting the early stage of a child’s brain development may risk developing behavioural disorders, and disrupts brain development which in turn leads to a delay in cognitive function and motor skills.
Adolescence is the period of life that occurs between late childhood and adulthood. In childhood, the brain has nearly developed to 90% of adults’ brain size. However, there are also rapid changes in the second decade of life making it the second window of opportunity for brain development until puberty ends.
At the age of 9-14 years old, it is not only physical maturation that occurs but also mental and emotional development to shape into an independent and responsible adult. At this stage, our brain starts to remodel depending on our age, experience and hormonal changes. To become more efficient, it uses the principle of “use it or lose it” as the unused synapse is pruned away. A synapse is a point of contact between two brain cells exchanging signals. Based on our neural activity, synaptic pruning targeted the least reinforced and weaker synapse. This is not a bad thing at all as it is to refine our brain to be in the best state by increasing the other tissue in our brain.
In the late 20s, the pruning rate starts to slow down and the region in our brain strengthens their connection with each other. Not just that, distant areas in our brain start to link together which leads to larger and widely distributed networks. As most of the brain’s parts fully developed during adolescence, the prefrontal cortex—the front portion of the frontal lobe—matures when we reach 30 years old. This area handles many of our higher-level cognitive abilities such as planning, solving problems, making decisions and cognitive control. Cognitive control is the ability to suppress impulses to perform a more appropriate action. That is why the adult brain is better wired for better cognitive control than the adolescent brain, which is more influenced by emotions and rewards.
However, the brain’s overall size starts to shrink as we are in our 30s and 40s. The rate of decline is at 5% per decade once we reach 40 years old. Although the shrinkage does not happen to all brain parts at once, some shrinks a lot faster than others. The prefrontal cortex—the last to mature, is the first to start to age and shrink. Experts refer to this as a “last in, first out” theory. When the brain shrinks, there are fewer connections between neurons and the neurotransmitter systems that communicate information in the brain and body. This can play a role in age-related diseases.
At this age, brain health matters most as it determines the rate of our brain decline. The shrinking of the brain may not be avoidable, but we can still delay the process. Nevertheless, if we further neglect and live a life that is not healthy, there is a chance to develop an age-related disease far early than it supposes to.
When we reach the age group of senior citizens, our body starts to change. Grey hair and wrinkles start to appear. Aches and joint pain become our daily hurdles and those changes occur in our brain’s appearance too—the size of our brain becoming smaller and the outer layer begins to thin due to loss of synapse. As a result of these changes, older adults may have memory issues such as trouble recalling names or words, decreased attention span, or a reduced ability to multitask.
However, not all old people are susceptible to cognitive decline. Research has found a rare group called super-agers. Super-agers refer to people in their 70s and 80s who have the mental or physical capability of people decades younger. Their brains show a thicker brain region and lesser cell loss than those in their group although their IQ levels remain the same as others.
All in all, everyone will age and our brain does too. This means all of us will face the normal ageing effect; slower processing speeds and decreased ability to multitask. But that does not give us the right to neglect our brain health even after we turn old. Every decade of our life matters as our brain learns new skills and knowledge that will make a great impact on the brain at a later age. The secret to the cognitive super-agers is they always make sure to move out of their comfort zones by enduring the discomfort of mastering a new skill. The good news is that we don’t have to go to the extent of changing the world or ending world hunger. It can be as simple as playing a musical instrument, playing mental challenges or speaking a new language. We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
There are various lifestyles that we can adapt to that can make a difference to your brain. One of them is by consuming foods that can enhance your health, especially brain food that is high in brain-boosting nutrients. Aside from that, consuming brain supplements that are widely available in the market as dietary supplements can also help in gaining extra nutrients that are difficult to obtain from food. It is never too late to become the healthiest version of ourselves to enjoy life to the fullest when we age.
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