brain function diagramGetting older can be a real bummer on a lot of different levels. New aches and pains crop up all the time and doctors make us worse try to help by prescribing countless medications, many of which are taken to counteract the side-effects of the first prescription.

Our physical bodies aside, men also tend to worry about our mental health as we age, and for good reason.  Conditions such as Alzheimer’s, anxiety and Schizophrenia are just a few of the mental health disorders to consider with the time honored tradition of getting older.

Fear not.  This post is a beacon of light in an ocean of mental health gloom.  Decreased brain function can be avoided.  Ongoing studies continue to prove that the secret lies in consistently working out and exercising the brain and body as we get older.

Our Elastic Brains

Our brains are elastic and have great plasticity.  Elasticity is the ability of a material to return to normal shape after being stretched.  The potential of our brains to revert backwards does exist so we need to always engage in learning, even as we grow older.

Plasticity is the ability of a material to be formed.  Our brain achieves this new shape through experience.  We are born into this world with around 100 billion neurons and with every experience, our brain creates neurons that shape it.  As we learn, we shape our brain.  Even all those mistakes we make create neurons and continue have positive impact on brain function and shape.

This shaping of the brain, or neuroplasticity, is how the brain functions and adaptive changes can’t occur without continued experience.  If an aging man retires and spends every day in front of the TV, he is not creating new experiences and learning.  There’s a good chance that this adaptive response won’t occur and the potential for mental health issues increases.

How to Expand Your Neural Network

brain neurons firingNeurons continually communicate with each other.  One healthy neuron can be in communication with tens of thousands others and each is capable of performing over 200 calculations a second.  The architecture of the human body is truly amazing.  Neurons communicate by way of dendrites (which is Latin for “tree”) and as they continue to reach out to each other, they “pass” information that is newly imprinted and needing to be organized.

The shape of your neural network is constantly expanding with each new experience. The brain actually triples in size during the first year of life.  Some growth occurs with mental exercise alone and some growth is dependent on a mind and body interaction, as neurons also connect to skeletal muscle. Don’t just depend on crossword puzzles to develop your brain.  If you have physical ability, continue to use it and allow it to not only make your body stronger but feed your brain with new neuron activity.

The Easiest Brain Building Activities

Using your non-dominant hand has been proven to strengthen neurons and even create new ones.  There’s a whole lot of new experiences to be had when trying to brush your teeth left-handed, eating with chopsticks, or taking care of Mr. Hankey (old South Park reference if you don’t know) after a big fibrous bowl of raisin bran.

Did You Know?
Guitarists are often surprised to learn that guitar playing is not a dominant hand skill.  It’s a learned skill and if a right-handed person learns to play left-handed, he will do just as well as being taught right-handed.  Likewise, he’ll be equally uncomfortable when trying to switch and play with his dominant hand.

Another easy way to stimulate brain neurons and increase growth?  Travel.  Taking new trips is a scientifically proven way of cashing in on some easy IQ building.  It’s yet another reason to live big and see the world while you can.

And finally..  Combine senses.  You have the ability to see, hear, smell, touch and taste every day.  The evidence shows that combining two or more of the senses works to fire neurons and increase brain activity.

Physical Exercise Increases Brain Function

brain workoutDoing anything physical increases brain function.  Doing anything physical for the first time increases it to a greater degree.  As we age, exercise becomes equally important for the brain as it is for the body.

Add some variation to your exercise routine and try integrating forms of exercise that you’ve never considered for.  While walking is always great, try taking on a square-dancing class or even a bit of yoga.  If you haven’t passed by a yoga studio in a while, it’s now considered a very manly form of exercise so don’t fear “the new”.  Who doesn’t want to breathe better while reducing stress and increasing concentration?

Society is increasingly becoming more sedentary, leading to decreased brain function and ever expanding waistlines. Even younger generations are getting far less exercise in our computerized, push-button world.  It’s a sure-fire path to mental health mediocrity.

Keep your brain young by working it out and exercising your body.  It’s a naturally easy way to increase brain function.

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