We use to think that once brain function was lost it was lost forever. Now with new research in the field of neuroplasticity we know our brains continue to grow new neurons in response to social and mental stimuli as well as healing from trauma and injury.
Our brains can change throughout our lives even into old age. We all know that when we exercise our muscles get stronger; when we stop they deteriorate. Even though the brain is not a muscle the same principle applies. Challenging our brain offers opportunities for growth. Our daily thoughts, habits movements can re-wire our brains whether or not we are aware of the process. If we lead socially isolated unstimulated lives our brains will atrophy over time. Conversely leading socially enriched lives can protect our brains. Evidence suggests that we can even consciously choose to heal and strengthen our brains even after neurodegeneration has occurred from disease or traumatic injury
Create a support system
The strength and breadth of your social interactions play a huge part in how well you are likely to age and even how long you are likely to live. Social connectivity is as important as other risk factors such as diet, exercise and sleep for healthy aging. Social connectedness is a subjective experience. Those with few friends or family members can be content and happy while those with larger group of friends may feel isolated.
Take stock of your feelings of loneliness or isolation. Do you have someone to call if you are sick, have a financial crisis or just want to chat? It is important to create a tribe of people you can count on. That tribe does not have to be very large but can include, family, friends co-workers or neighbors.
Connect to the people you are suppose to every day. This is how friendships are born. Reach out to others don’t wait for them to reach out to you. Offer to help volunteer for a cause you are interested in.
Prioritize actual meet-ups. Current statistics show that the average American is spending 11 hours a day on screen time. More time on social media can cause feelings of loneliness and isolation. Actual human contact causes the release of a hormone Oxytocin (the love hormone) during actual human interaction. Additionally cortisol our stress hormone is reduced during social interaction.
Create meetings that promote a new healthy lifestyle. We all have friends that like to meet for late night dinners, cocktails or dessert. Offer an alternative instead such as morning coffee a hike or exercise class. Encouraging these activities can help your friends to create a healthier lifestyle
Consider co-habitating with like minded friends. Older individuals are considering this to pool resources. Remember the TV show Golden girls. Now think of this with people sharing organic veggies or cooking these together. Living together with like-minded friends can offer a host of social benefits and extend functional independence
Find your passion. Having a purpose in life is a strong determinant of overall health and mortality. Adults who leave the workplace and seek organization in their daily schedule benefit the most from having a greater sense of purpose. Older individuals who are finding a sense of purpose score higher on cognitive testing. Nurturing has great neuroprotection.
Never stop learning
1. Take a class. Maybe you want to learn a foreign language. Many universities offer discounted tuition on seniors for classes
2. Learn to play a musical instrument. It has been shown that music stimulates the brain and enhance memory
3. Do puzzles. Individuals who engage in crossword puzzles or do Sudoku had better functioning brains.
4. Listen to music Even if you do not want to learn a musical instrument, listening to music can connect to prior experiences awaken memories particularly with a song that evokes positive feelings. Music can also enhance your exercise routine or help you to complete household chores.
5. Dance. There is surprising new evidence that dancing can be neuroprotective. The combination of physical exercise along with learning a new dance integrated with the social aspect of coordinating with a partner appears to enhance neuroprotection.
6. Brain training. There are several games that can be played to help to enhance brain function. Brain HQ and Lumosity are two that you can practice on line.
Take the time to engage socially but when home alone try crossword puzzle, or other brain engaging activity to stimulate those neurons and upsize your brain.