Drivers of rapid ageing: NEURO PATHWAYS AND THE BRAIN
Cognitive frailty has emerged as one of the greatest health threats of “old age”, with nearly 50% of adults over the age of 80 afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The disease can begin to “grow” up to 30 years prior to any diagnosis which is why prevention is so important here. Do our brains have to age this way or are there ways we can be helping ourselves are there preventative steps we can be taking earlier on in life? We may put on our anti-ageing creams each night to keep our skin supple, exercise to keep our bodies mobile but what are we doing for our cognitive health and the ageing process going on there…
The brain is most vulnerable to chemical exposure in utero and during infancy and early childhood
when the brain is in its critical stages of development so we can see how early on our lifestyle choices can begin to have a knock on effect for us in later life. When the brain is young and not yet fully formed, there’s so much flexibility and plasticity, which explains why little ones learn so and pick up things so quickly.
Your neuro pathways are simply the paths in your brain that information travels on. When you do something over and over, it develops a neural pathway in your brain. This is the road that’s used when you do something automatically, without consciously thinking about it. The neural pathways in the brain begin to solidify by age 25; however, new neural pathways can be created with a bit of effort keeping you feeling ‘mentally young’. By challenging yourself, learning and taking on new habits, you can grow more neurons and create new pathways and research suggests that this maybe a key way in keeping your brain supple and agile.
The best way to develop those neural pathways and keep your brain in top shape is to take good care of your overall health and wellbeing. Don’t leave your brain out!! Stress, poor nutrition, lack of nutrients like antioxidants and omega 3’s, too little sleep, cigarettes, drugs or alcohol will all be detrimental to your brain’s development. They will also keep your brain at a standstill by using the same old pathways.
Researchers suggest that the brain generates less chemical messengers with aging, and it is this decrease in dopamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, and norepinephrine activity that may play a role in declining cognition, memory, increased depression and rapid ageing.
So what are some causes that can accelerate brain ageing? Neuro toxins (Parabens, smoke, pollution, heavy metals, some paints, etc.) alcohol abuse, cigarette smoke, drug use these can all cause damage to the neurons in the brain or brain cells. Scientists have long believed that once a neuron is damaged it stays damaged and begins to age it a little faster than natural.
• Brain injuries
• Drugs & alcohol
• Sleep apnea
• Smoking/too much caffeine
• Poor diets/lack of nutrients/dehydration
• Lack of exercise
• Unhealthy peer group
What can we do to help keep it as healthy as possible?
• Regular physical activity
• Pursuing intellectually stimulating activities/learning/trying new things
• Staying socially active
• Managing stress
• Eating a well-balanced wholefood focused diet- Lots of veg, fruits, clean proteins, wholegrains, pulses, beans, healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, fatty oily fish, olives.
• Sleeping well- At least 7/8 hours at night
Biological age is the state of our true health. Also called physiological age, it is a measure of how well or how poorly your body is functioning relative to your actual calendar age (So how rapidly you maybe ageing!)
For example, you may have a calendar or chronological age of 60, but because of a healthy and active lifestyle (avoiding longevity threats like cigarettes, too much alcohol, poor diet, drug use and obesity), your body is physiologically more similar to someone with a chronological age of 50. Your biological age would, therefore be 50. We all encounter people who appear to be much younger or older than they are and wonder what their secret is!
You’ll be pleased to know that there are lots of steps we can be taking every day to support our bodies and they haven’t got to age as quickly as we may assume. There are several health factors that would give you years back on your average life expectancy.
Our lifestyle habits can have a massive impact on our longevity and biological age. These include:
• Exercise habits- Being moderately active and moving each day
• Eating habits- A plant focused wholefood diet, lots of healthy fats, good organic proteins, an abundant of vegetables and fruit, legumes, wholegrains. Avoiding refined sugars, trans fats, processed foods, additives/e numbers, fizzy drinks, etc.
• Stress levels- Reducing them as much as we can, we already know how quickly stress can age us internally and externally
• Alcohol and cigarette consumption- Limit or avoid as much as you can
• Level of brain stimulation- Conversations, challenges, learning, hobbies etc,
• Amount of sleep- At least 7 hours of good quality sleep a night
• Romantic relationships/friendships/partnerships- A sense of belonging and purpose and engaging socially
• Thinking positively
Heredity and your gene pool, is also responsible for your biological age, as is the location of where we live and who we live with all play a part. The environment and cultures that we live in are all connected to healthy habits, the foods we eat, how we spend our time etc.
So how does this age us? People with a biological age higher than their real age have a much higher risk of developing old age related diseases and are much more prone to chronic illnesses like dementia, altzeimers, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Controlling the way we age is really completely in our hands! Although we can’t control genetics we can still lower our biological age by implementing some of my golden rules mentioned above.
Nobody wants to live a long life suffering with poor health and chronic diseases and I think it’s so important to remember that these do not have to be ‘age-related’. By delaying the onset of diseases, especially cardiovascular, mental and physical problems, you will enjoy being healthy, active and vibrant for many years to come.