Is Your Brain Aging Faster Than You Are?
Did you know that the adult brain loses an average of about 85,000 neurons a day? In early childhood, the brain is very active, sprouting new neurons and developing new connections between synapses. Older adults have significantly less activity in the brain. As we get older, our muscles tend to wither, and a similar process takes place in the brain.
Brain imaging studies show that your day-to-day lifestyle and activities are either accelerating or slowing the brain aging process. Just as you can train your muscles to retain a more youthful tone, you can use strategies to keep your brain functioning more optimally. Ultimately, brain aging is optional… if you consistently use the right strategies.
The Effect of Brain Reserve on Aging
One of the best ways to understand brain aging is to look at it through the lens of a concept called “brain reserve.” That’s the extra cushion of brain function you have to help you deal with the stress life throws at you. In general, the more brain reserve you have, the more resilient you are and the better your brain can handle the aging process to keep memory loss, anxiety, depression, and other issues at bay.
To grasp this point, look at the following “brain reserve” drawing. It shows the intersection of 3 important factors:
- Brain activity
As you can see, at a certain point along the line in the graph, you cross a threshold, indicating that your reserve is gone. This is when symptoms like anxiety, depression, memory problems, or temper flare-ups can appear.
Why Do Some People Have More Brain Reserve Than Others?
Let’s rewind to unpack why people have varying levels of brain reserve. A growing body of science is showing that even before you were conceived, your parents’ lifestyle habits were laying the foundation for your overall physical and mental health and wellbeing.
At conception, your brain had a certain potential for reserve. However, if your mom smoked (or got second-hand smoke from your dad), drank too much alcohol, ate junk food, was chronically stressed, or had infections during the pregnancy, it depleted your reserve—even before you were born! If, on the other hand, your mom (and dad) didn’t smoke, and she was healthy, ate nutritious meals, took prenatal vitamins, and was not overly stressed, it was contributing to a boost in your reserve.
Once you’re born, this increase or depletion in your brain reserve continues for the rest of your life. For example, if you were exposed to chronic stress or witnessed domestic abuse at home, it decreased your reserve. If you fell off your bike and hit your head when you were in grade school, it lowered your reserve, even if didn’t have any symptoms. If you started smoking marijuana as a teenager, it further depleted your reserve. Then if you played tackle football or hit a lot of soccer balls with your head, it took an additional toll on your reserve. Despite all of these knocks on your reserve, you may not have developed any symptoms…yet.
2 Soldiers, 1 Blast, Very Different Results
Think of it this way: There are 2 soldiers in a war-torn region. They’re both in the same tank and are both exposed to the same blast injury at the same angles. They both survive the blast without physical injuries. However, one of them is subsequently wracked by PTSD and depression, while the other one experiences no residual mental health problems. Why? Luck? Probably not.
It is far more likely that the 2 soldiers had different levels of brain reserve going into the accident. One soldier had more reserve because he took good care of his brain, he had lots of educational opportunities, his parents fed him well, and they didn’t let him play football. The other soldier had less reserve due to an unstable home environment, 3 previous concussions from playing football, a junk-food diet, and drug use as a teenager. They were both effective at their jobs, but they started at different places in terms of reserve.
So even though the blast diminished both of their reserves, the one with more reserve avoided any mental health consequences while the one with less reserve fell below that threshold where the reserve is gone, making him vulnerable to problems like PTSD and depression.
It’s the same with aging.
3 Steps to Put the Brakes on Brain Aging
Getting well is not just about becoming symptom-free, but it’s also about increasing brain reserve to getting back above the line. To boost your brain reserve and slow down the aging process, you need to follow three simple strategies:
- Love your brain (you have to really care about your brain).
- Avoid the things that hurt your brain.
- Do the things that help your brain.
Your everyday habits and decisions are either boosting or stealing your brain’s reserve and are either accelerating the aging process or rejuvenating your brain. When you grasp this concept, you realize that you have a lot more influence on how fast your brain ages.
At Amen Clinics, most of the people we see are already symptomatic, which means they have crossed the brain reserve threshold. With our brain SPECT imaging, we often see that their brains look older than they should. By taking a comprehensive approach to treatment using the least toxic, most effective therapies, we can help you reduce your symptoms and rejuvenate your brain. And you can boost brain reserve so you can better handle whatever life throws your way.
For more information on how we can help you, call us at 888-288-9834 or schedule a visit online.