Although the brain isn’t a muscle, the old ‘use it or lose it’ adage still applies. Brain scans show that when people use their brains in unaccustomed ways, more blood flows into different areas of the brain, and new neural pathways form. In a study in the journal Nature in 2004, young people were taught how to juggle. After three months, MRI scans showed enlargement of the grey matter in their brains — the part responsible for higher mental functions. When the participants in the study stopped juggling, their brains shrank again, suggesting that we need to keep our brains engaged to maintain mental agility and function. So, whether it’s a crossword puzzle, Sudoku or a university degree, trying giving your brain a challenge every day and you’ll be more likely to keep your marbles! Also, another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that more frequent participation in mentally stimulating activities can lead to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Anti-aging tip 2: Be sociable
According to US government research, social isolation is a predictor of declining mental function in older age. Experts believe this may be down to not using a wide variety of communication skills. Research shows that people who are part of a group — whether it’s a church or a book club — are healthier than solitary people when they are older, and that the wider the range of relationships (family, friends, work and so on) a person has, the less cognitive decline they will experience with aging. So, as well as tackling the crossword puzzle on your lonesome, make time in your life for shared activities — and ensure you spend time with as wide a range of people as possible.
Anti-aging tip 3: Exercise more
Many of the depressing changes once attributed to chronological aging — such as fat gain, loss of muscle, and poor posture — are now believed to be due to plain old inactivity. For example, a Fels Longitudinal Study — which investigated aging, body composition and lifestyle — found that women who do vigorous physical activity such as running, cycling or swimming several times a week weigh up to 11.8kg (26lb) less than sedentary women, and have significantly less body fat. If you are more concerned about your heart health than your dress size, though, then doing less intense activities such as walking will help to protect your vital organ. Maintaining as active a lifestyle as you can is good advice for anyone trying to hold back the years.
Anti-aging tip 4: Eat oily fish
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and tuna are the best source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which have been found to protect against cardiovascular disease (particularly in combination with statins), type II diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Also, Omega-3 is believed to help the skin stay elastic and hydrated, which means wrinkles are less likely to appear — and which is why salmon is the base of the famous anti-aging food Perricone Plan. But the benefits of omega-3 aren’t just skin deep! Research by Rush University in Chicago in 2005 found that eating oily fish can slow the mental decline associated with aging. The results showed that eating oily fish at least once a week can slow the rate of cognitive decline by 10 to 13 per cent per year.