The brain begins working while people are in their mother’s womb, and they continue to work throughout their lives to control body functions that help them to understand and interact within the environment. The blink of an eye, the twitch of a muscle and every thought originate in the brain.


Brain health is about reducing risk factors, keeping the mind active and getting the best out of the brain as people age, according to Linda Inmon, Cooperative Extension Program associate-family and consumer sciences at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.


A healthy brain is key to maintaining a clear mind and to remaining active. As people get older, the brain tends to lose some of its elasticity.


“The older brain does not make connections as it did during the teen, young and middle adult years,” Inmon said. “In older adults, remembering things and focusing becomes harder. Energy levels also begin to decrease.”


The brain must be kept healthy to prevent it from decreasing in its cognitive abilities, she said. Maintaining a healthy brain will cause it to keep its elasticity and allow new things to be learned. Mental health is just as important as physical health at every age.


“Medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and family history have an impact on the functions of the brain,” Inmon said. “Family history cannot be changed, but we can change our lifestyle, such as eating and exercising habits, to reduce the risk of diseases that affect the brain and reduce the risk of developing dementia and cognitive decline.”


MAINTAINING BRAIN HEALTH


There are some things that can be done to help slow the process of the aging brain.


Dr. Donn Dexter, a neurologist in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, recommends exercising the body and brain, eating healthy and socializing to help maintain brain health. Getting plenty of sleep also plays a vital role in keeping the brain healthy.


EXERCISE — “Exercise the body and mind regularly to help the brain grow new brain cells (neurons),” Dexter said. “Exercise is believed to increase blood flow to the brain that helps slow brain shrinkage that comes with age. Brain exercises such as crossword puzzles, reading, playing cards and other mind strengthening games slows mental decline that happens during the aging process.”


HEALTHY EATING — Eating healthy is also important in maintaining a healthy brain, he said. Eating more colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and healthy fats, especially plant-based, is recommended. Reducing red meat consumption is also beneficial.


SOCIALLY ACTIVE — Staying socially active helps protect against depression and stress that can contribute to memory loss. According to Dexter, an active social life helps reduce one’s risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.


“Remember if do not use it, you lose it,” Inmon said. “Love each day, live life and laugh often.”


The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all of its Extension and Research programs and services without discrimination.


— Debbie Archer is an Extension associate-communications at the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.