‘The middle-aged brain is creative, finds solutions, knows what’s important and has learnt to stay cool,’ says US science and health editor Barbara Strauch in her
book, The Secret Life Of The Grown-up Brain (Penguin Books).
1. Move Faster
Not only does getting out of breath protect the heart, lungs, bones, digestion and mental health, it also literally expands the mind. ‘When muscles contract, they produce growth factors that stimulate brain cells,’ says Strauch. Studies show aerobic exercise (making the heart beat faster for at least 20 minutes at a time, so you’re mildly out of breath) creates new cells in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that lays down memories.
2. Embrace Change
‘The middle-aged brain likes its familiar patterns, so shake it up!’ says Strauch. Learn to play the piano or speak Spanish, or take up tapestry work. Concentrating on a complex task helps brain cells to grow and may even keep dementia at bay.
3. Eat Bright Food
Research at the University of California in the US shows that old dogs can learn new tricks if their diet is fortified with vitamins. ‘There’s probably not one brain scientist who’s not drinking red wine or eating blueberries,’ says Strauch. Along with other dark fruit and veg, and fish oils, these are good sources of nutrients that fight inflammation and ageing; also turmeric, which researchers hope may stave off Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Join the Big Society
Connecting with others can sharpen our minds and make us happier than stay-at-homes. Neighbourliness stimulates the brain, found one study investigating the impact on housing with a street view on elderly occupants. Altruism can have even greater benefits.