The brain is an organ that, like the rest of our body, ages over the years. If we all wish stay younger It is not only because we dislike wrinkles, but also to avoid the many diseases related to aging.
Forecasts indicate that by 2050 25% of the European population will be over 65 years old and the number of people with more than 80 years it will triple. But is there a fountain of youth for our brain? Although nothing possibly takes us back in time, we can try to age in a healthy way and reduce the effect that the passage of time has.
What is aging?
Aging could be defined as the set of changes that occur with age and cause a decrease in our capabilities physiological, motor and cognitive. The primary is gradual and inevitable and occurs throughout our lives. Secondary or premature, is triggered by the suffering of certain diseases or substance abuse, and can be prevented.
The chronological age (that of the birth certificate) indicates the time that has elapsed since our birth. However, there is also physiological age, which depends on the condition of our body and it can be less than the chronological one (if we take care of ourselves) or greater (if we have bad habits).
With age, the size of the brain decreases, we lose neurons and the production of hormones and neurotransmitters is altered. However, the most important change that occurs is the loss of many of the connections between neurons, long-lived cells that do not divide and, therefore, hardly regenerate.
Another consequence of brain aging It is the accumulation of proteins in the form of aggregates that tend to be deposited both inside and outside the neurons. This can trigger the development of age-related neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s.
It should be clarified that what is commonly referred to as senile dementia it is an obsolete term. Aging does not necessarily imply the appearance of a dementia or significant memory loss. If there is a significant loss of memory and learning capacityIt would be related to a specific disease and not to normal brain aging.
Measures to slow down aging
The diet it is essential for healthy aging. The most recommended is the Mediterranean, which briefly implies a low consumption of meat and poultry, a low to moderate consumption of dairy products, a moderate amount of alcohol (wine) and fats (olive oil), and a high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals and fish.
It has been proven that Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of suffering cognitive failures and diseases like Alzheimer’s. Also, calorie restriction or limiting the calories we eat can help delay aging.
In addition to taking care of what we eat, it is advisable to sleep 8 hours a day. Maintaining a good wake-sleep cycle is essential for many brain functions, for example for the elimination of toxins from the brain that have accumulated during the day. While we sleep, the space that exists between neurons increases, facilitating their cleaning and proper functioning. Therefore, maintaining a restful sleep promotes healthier aging.
Regular exercise and Physical activity is key to reducing the effects of aging. Clinical studies indicate that physical training with intensitymoderate plays a neuroprotective role, slowing down the decrease in brain volume and improving its functioning. Specifically, aerobic exercise improves cognitive function, not only during aging but also in people who suffer from neurodegenerative diseases.
On the other hand, it has been proven that those people who have a higher educational level or who maintain a certain intellectual activity –Read, study or acquire new skills– have a less predisposition to develop dementia. The basis for this neuroprotection is associated with the formation of new connections between neurons.
Other healthy habits can also help us avoid the effects of premature aging. Without going any further, while a large intake of alcohol runs the risk of inducing cognitive failures, other alcoholic beverages can be beneficial for maintaining good mental health. The wine, for example, has a high content of polyphenols, which have action anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
Tobacco is definitely a habit that should be avoided, since it has been linked to the acceleration of aging and the appearance of cognitive problems and dementia.
Nor should we lose sight of the risk factors related to chronic diseases highly prevalent in the elderly. The maintenance of the activity and integrity of the brain depends, to a large extent, on the blood vessels that maintain good irrigation. Hypertension, atherosclerosis, and high cholesterol levels increase the chances of developing cognitive failure, stroke, and dementia.
To this is added that diabetes and obesity affect glucose metabolism and generate insulin resistance. Both alterations could cause chronic damage to neurons and accelerate brain aging.
Mood disorders don’t help either. The depression is a very common emotional disorder in older people and is caused by a imbalance in neurotransmitters, which are the molecules neurons use to communicate. This mismatch could translate into long-term brain malfunction, accelerating brain aging.
In short, the key to maintaining a healthy and young brain is the same as for the rest of the body. That is to say, you have to maintain a healthy diet, get enough sleep, avoid excessive alcohol consumption, avoid tobacco and stress, do moderate exercise, and avoid the development of other diseases or, at least, keep them under control.
* This article was originally published on The Conversation.
*Inés Moreno González, author and iRamón y Cajal researcher in Neurodegenerative Diseases.
* Antonia Gutiérrez, author and in Principal Investigator at the Center for Networked Biomedical Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases (CIBERNED).