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How to Enrich and Empower
Your Brain as You Age

by Barbara Brabec

AS BUSINESS OWNERS, we all want to stay as mentally sharp as possible as we age, and one way to do this is to pay attention to our overall health, which directly affects the health of the brain.

Much about the human brain remains a mystery to scientists, particularly when it comes to understanding how the brain ages. But research is reportedly speeding up now, pushed by the fact that more than 12,500 Baby Boomers are now hitting age 50 every day.

I love Marian Diamond's optimistic viewpoints about the aging brain on the American Society of Aging website. As one of the few scientists allowed to study tissue from Albert Einstein's brain, she has burst myths about the brain's inevitable decline with passing years, maintaining that our brains don't "go downhill" after the age of 30, and that "you can teach old dogs new tricks." By 2050 there will be 30 million Americans age 85 or older, Diamond notes. "Our challenge then is to learn ways to keep the brain functioning at an optimum level for a lifetime," and "We need to change our negative attitudes toward aging for ourselves and for others."

According to an article in Remedy Magazine, there are a number of simple things you can do to enrich and empower your brain. To stay healthy, your brain needs regular mental stimulation (i.e., use it or lose it), sufficient sleep (a problem for many struggling entrepreneurs), and—believe it or not—plenty of vegetables. Chemicals in the brain that influence mood, mental agility, and memory tend to decrease with aging, and studies have shown that if we eat less than one serving of vegetables a day, we are more likely to experience cognitive decline than those who eat three servings a day.

And did you know that a glass of antioxidant-rich red wine with dinner can actually help protect you against dementia and other forms of cognitive loss? Iíll drink to that!

The Benefits of Age

Although age brings its own share of problems, it also brings such benefits as:

A More Philosophical Attitude. In his article, "Illuminating the Mind," Richard Anthony says that "Getting older is also associated with certain giftsófor example, an improved ability to be philosophical about the fact that downs are as much a part of life as ups." In this article, he quotes John Gabrieli, professor of brain and cognitive sciences, who says recent research has lent credence to the idea that the "wisdom of age" is real, and goes on to explain all that is being learned through fMRI (functional magnetic resonance) studies of the brain.

Greater Insight into Complex Situations. According to the experts, we become wiser in our older age because age brings with it greater insight into complex situations and a keener ability to evaluate circumstances accurately. In other words, we are better able, as we age, to utilize our past experiences and apply what we've learned in unusual ways.

Increased Creativity. An uplifting fact gleaned from my research on this topic is that changes in the aging brain may actually enable us to become more creative as we age—as evidenced by the number of artists, musicians, architects, comedians, writers and other creative people who have not only been productive into their nineties, but did their best work as they got older.

In a PBS special on "The Secret Life of the Brain," Stanley Kunitz was cited as an example. When he was named poet laureate of the United States at the age of 95, he was still writing new poems, still reading to live audiences, and still standing as an inspiring example of the brain's ability to stay vital in the final years of our lives.

Remember actor/comedian George Burns? He enjoyed a remarkable career resurrection at age 79 that was ended only by his death at the age of 100, making him better known in the last two decades of his life than at any other time in his life and career. "At the age of 79, it was like I was just getting started," Burns said in an interview. "I didnít quit. I stayed in there. And I finally got so old that I became new again."

Iíve always loved Burnsí philosophy about life and work, and here are three of my favorite Burnsí quotations:

"Fall in love with what you do for a living. I don't care what it is. It works."

"I'd rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate."

"You canít help getting older, but you donít have to get old."

 

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