I remembered to tune into the second part of the ABC’s How to Stay Young series focussing on the brain, so that was a good start in itself. But only minutes into it, my new friend Angela Rippon revealed that by age 70, on average we’ve lost 20% of our brain size. Yep, it actually shrinks that much. If that’s not enough to get your attention, what is?
So what can be done to stave off this dastardly attack of our grey matter and possible encroaching dementia? Apparently, some of it comes down to genetics (that is, luck of the draw), but only a quarter—which means upbringing and lifestyle have a bigger influence. Being a talented mathematician, I worked out that means we get to influence 75% of what’s going to go on up there. That’s heartening.
Here’s their take on what we can do:
- Exercise (that seems to be a recurring theme). They did a test with a band of willing ageing peeps to work out whether table tennis or walking was a better exercise in terms of stimulating the brain. I took a gamble on table tennis being the likely winner, but both had different positive effects on the brain, and that’s aside from the physical benefits. Walking increased the volume of the hippocampus in the brain which, according to Mr Wikipedia is ‘thought to be the centre of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system’ and the table tennis players saw an increase in the thickness of their brain cortex, which deals with complex thinking. And that’s not to mention the positive effects of socialising. A happy brain is a good brain. (Conclusion: don’t choose one physical activity over another – do both!) Go nuts – walk to table tennis practice.
- Eat good brain food. There’s scientific evidence that certain foods can actually help stave off dementia. That’s because they contain ‘anthocyanins’, compound which help maintain healthy blood vessels, which is a risk factor for vascular dementia. You could eat purple sweet potato by the bucket load, like the sprightly, dementia-free old folk in Ockinawa, Japan, to get your daily dose, or you could add these purple little beauties to your diet to to keep your brain blood flow going well:
- black currants
- aubergine (eggplant)
- red cabbage.
A further bit of reading revealed this extends to other purple berries and fruits, like pomegranates, and cherries, and grapes. The darker the better. Bliss. That sounds a lot more appealing than half a kilo of sweet potato a day, even if it is in the form of ice cream. Sounds like Heston Blumenthal’s been visiting and just a bit wrong. But I can see some purple-infused dinners approaching. And not one mention of tofu.
- Learn something new. The best brain exercise is taking up something new that works a new part of the brain. Learning a new language is especially good as it increases the size of certain parts of the brain. Music is great too, combining physical and mental skills. Even more incentive to learn to play that beautiful piano that’s been sitting grandly, untouched and unloved, for a decade in my lounge.
- Brain zappping. I’m not sure if that was the technical term they used, but it involved testing of employees of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the US after giving them brain stimulation (via electrodes but it was a bit vague). The results showed a doubling in brain capacity in terms of attention span, but it’s not entirely practical to have your brain zapped at regular intervals, and perhaps just a little daunting. Might stick to the purple foods and a spot of exercise or three.
- Being injected with the blood of a young’un. Then there’s the possibility of receiving blood infusions from the blood of young people. In mice, this delivered excellent results for increasing memory, and is the work of ongoing research. Not sure you can simply zip off to a local blood bank to request to request some good young blood though. Shame.
All these revelations. Lots more ideas, scientifically-tested, we can do to keep your brain eating demons at bay.
I’m off to do a sudoku because I suck at them and usually avoid them. It will be good for me. Maybe I’ll do it as I take my dogs for a stroll around the block.
What about you?