5 Ways to Train Your Brain for Lifelong Mental Fitness
Ever find yourself staring into your closet, unable to recall why you're there or what you needed in the first place? Or why do you sometimes jumble perfectly easy sentences or blank at a pivotal moment during a work meeting? You're young and relatively healthy, so what's the deal?
Brain blips can be unnerving, but they're completely normal. The good news is that they're rarely the sign of a declining mind. We tend to think of youth as a time of peak mental capacity, and that once our child-prodigy days are gone, there's no hope left. But, in fact, the human brain is most likely at its best during midlife, when life experiences combine with decades' worth of neural connections, resulting in peak intelligence and ability.
"We may not learn or recall information quite as quickly as we did in our teens and 20s," says Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, the founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas. "But during our 30s, 40s, and 50s, we get better at what matters most: making decisions, synthesizing information, and coming up with big ideas."
That means, however old you are now, it's never too late to adopt healthy habits that will get your brain in good shape-and even improve with time.
While it's natural for neurons to fire more slowly with age, stress and anxiety cause people to pathologize perfectly normal experiences, like forgetting an acquaintance's name (again). "You probably pay attention to the few things that go wrong, but don't give your brain credit for the thousands of things it did right," Chapman says.
Instead of focusing on the occasional lapse, concentrate on your daily habits. What you do today will play a major role in whether you operate optimally in the present-and whether you develop more serious cognitive deterioration, like dementia, later in life. When it comes to brain function, everyday behavior matters as much as-if not more than-your DNA.
Whether you're 23 or 63, here are five proven ways to gain a mental edge for years to come.