Lengthened Lifespan Demands Focus on Extending Brain Health

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Humans can only live so long and we’re close to reaching the natural biological limit, if we haven’t reached it already. That’s what Albert Einstein College of Medicine scientists say in a new report.

The report cites data, which strongly suggest the maximum human lifespan of 125 years was attained in the 1990s. And while experts say there is no scientific reason more serious interventions into the biology of aging couldn’t extend the human lifespan, the report says the possibility is essentially constrained by any number of genetic variants.

I applaud and wholeheartedly celebrate making improvements in reducing cancer, risk of heart disease, stroke and other areas impacting our lifespan. However, there is a pressing issue I feel demands our immediate attention.

Since the 19th century, the average lifespan has risen almost continuously. Yet, science shows that, on average, cognitive decline begins at age 42 – and this figure has remained mostly stagnant. That means most of us spend more than half of our lives with our brains in a state of decline, operating well below optimal level.

Allowing brain decline is the unfortunate result of a widespread problem. Despite being the most vital organ in the entire body, the brain is often taken for granted and neglected. It is also likely to be the only organ incapable of ever being replaced.

We can halt and even reverse this unacceptable downward spiral in brain performance, with the right interventions. We just have to (1) embrace new scientific evidence, (2) change the way we engage our brain’s limitless potential to be modified, and (3) recognize that we are the driving force behind the course our own brain health takes.

To realize that you can enhance your most vital asset by taking simple, but very intentional steps, every day should incentivize different habits and new actions.

The key is to make sure we keep moving our brains forward. Doing so is an important, life-long pursuit. In fact, estimates suggest that up to 30 percent of dementia cases are preventable through public health and lifestyle interventions. Yes, just as lifestyle interventions can spur weight loss and decrease bad cholesterol, we now know that implementing healthy brain habits canimprove neuron nourishing brain blood flow and strengthen weakened connections between brain regions producing positive cognitive change.

Like those same lifestyle interventions, brain health fitness is not a quick fix. So those intentional changes I mentioned? To achieve maximum benefit, they also need to be consistent and ongoing. It takes commitment, but it is so worth it!

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

First, update your outdated beliefs. A near-perfect memory is not the cornerstone of a robust brain, and multitasking is not the ultimate measure of highly effective brain performance. So single-task to build stronger brain connections and write down ideas and names you want to remember!

Second, sort out and stop habits that downgrade and degrade your brain performance, such as information overload and download. Take in less information, vet it carefully, and think more deeply about the ideas and how you can use these to update old ways of thinking to create new neural pathways. Deeper level thinking provides the heavy weight-lifting as a great brain workout.

Third, spend focused time on meaningful real-life activities that draw upon your prior experiences and combine it with new learning to continue having the mental agility to make vital decisions and solve complex problems into late life.

And finally, become an advocate of brain health to all those around you – whether at work, home, community or play. You are never too young or too old to adopt healthy brain habits that challenge and enhance your brain’s capacity. You should start and end each day focused on brain fitness by setting and achieving high-performance goals no matter your age – and encourage others to do the same.

Like it or not, experts agree with the conclusion that there’s a limit to how long humans can live. Whether that limit is 125 or something greater, shouldn’t be what’s at issue right now. Rather, we should be focused on doing whatever we can to improve the quality of living longer by making sure we have maximal brainpower. We have not even begun to unlock our brain potential with extended life expectancy.

We all want to live long and healthy lives that include mental sharpness. It will take effort on our part. We are discovering the tools to make our brains smarter and better, but we only reap what we sow. So let’s not wait another day to get started– our health starts and ends with our brain health!

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