Just like muscles and joints, certain cells in the brain stiffen as the brain ages (1). An ageing brain is also characterised by shrinking, with the volume of the brain declining at a rate of around 5% per decade after the age of 40. This rate of decline can increase further after the age of 70 (2).
As the brain ages, some cognitive functions are also affected. Some of the changes include becoming slower in finding the right words and recalling names, having problems with multitasking, and a mild decrease in the ability to pay attention (3).
These changes occur due to the shrinking of certain parts of the brain, particularly those associated with learning and other complex mental activities (3).
Despite these changes, older adults can learn new skills, form new memories and improve vocabulary and language skills. Even with the challenges an individual faces with an ageing brain, typical tasks are still manageable given a little extra time and effort (3).
Consider the below tips on how to improve mental and cognitive health before and during old age:
Like most other muscles in your body, regularly flexing and exercising, or in this case, stimulating your brain, can help maintain its health (4). Mental stimulation forms new connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells, developing neurological "plasticity" and building up a functional reserve that provides a hedge against future cell loss (4).
Regular physical activity reduces inflammation and the risk of insulin resistance (5). It also stimulates the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of neurons, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells (5).
Exercise also improves your mood, sleep quality, stress reduction and mild anxiety (5). This is why after exercise, you experience a sense of elation and good mood, as endorphins are released (5).
Providing our bodies with a healthy and balanced diet allows it to function properly. However, sometimes it is difficult to ensure we get adequate amounts of vitamins and nutrients through diet alone.
Under these circumstances, supplementation can help you receive sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals on a daily basis. Here are some vitamins and minerals worth considering:
Fish oil is a great source of naturally derived omega-3 to support your brain and cognitive function.
The brain herb Ginkgo and Brahmi have been traditionally used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to support brain function.
Acetyl L-carnitine maintains and supports cognitive and mental functions, while astaxanthin is a natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that acts to reduce free radicals formed in the body.
Zinc supports healthy brain development and better learning ability (6).
Magnesium supports brain health by modulating our bodies' central stress response system, thus supporting healthy ageing.
Iron supports brain function by playing a role in cellular metabolism, and the synthesis of important aspects of the brain like neurotransmitters and myelin.
Vitamin C supports brain function as a vital antioxidant molecule in the brain, as well as supporting the synthesis and growth of neurotransmitters.
B complex is also essential in supporting brain function and health. Vitamin B12 plays a role in the synthesis of nerve cells. B12 is also needed to support cognitive function.
Lastly, Ashwagandha supports the brain by promoting sleep quality.
Help support your brain as you age by complementing your diet with these supplements.
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Find out more about other areas that the above supplements can help you with:
*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.