THE BLOG
11/18/2010 08:39 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How to Stay Sharp as Your Brain Ages

Do you want to be more productive, look radiant, and have a happy, fulfilling life? Whether you're a stay-at-home mother or a captain of industry, we would all like to be at the top of our game. And the key to truly changing your life for the better is by improving your mind or, more precisely, your brain. The fact is, the only way you can be at your personal best is when your brain is at its personal best. Your mind is responsible for every thought, emotion, dream and idea you have. It interprets each sensation and orchestrates all of our movements. It allows us to learn and to remember and ultimately determines our ability to lead a productive and meaningful life. In other words, our brain is the essence of our being.

This is why investing in your brain is the most life-changing action you can take. When your brain at its best your ability to make wise decisions, to think creatively and to problem solve will dramatically improve. You will notice a new sense of inner joy and calm that are the natural result of a healthy, balanced brain. An additional benefit is that you will also look better. Because your face mirrors the chemical activity that takes place in your brain, a vibrant brain will give you that proverbial healthy glow. When this happens you are having what I call a "Beautiful Brain Day."

Like an elite athlete, your brain must be in peak condition in order to function at its best in the short term and in the long run. Research in brain science has shown that an unhealthy brain increases our risk of developing dementia as we age. So how can you keep your brain physically fit throughout your lifetime? It's not about doing mental calisthenics with Sudoku or crossword puzzles. While brain teasers are fun, they can also be isolating. It's about spending time with friends and family, and learning or experiencing something new. That's right. The physical health of our brain is greatly influenced by the lifestyle choices we make.

You should also pay attention to how you nourish and replenish your brain. As a neurologist who cares for patients with Alzheimer's disease, I tell family members concerned about prevention to be as physically active as possible and to eat a nutritionally rich and balanced diet. (I recommend skipping the supplements. They will never replace fresh, unprocessed foods and those rich in antioxidants like Omega-3s.) In future blogs, I will explain more about how to nourish your neurons and other ways to keep your brain more resilient to disease, all of which will positively impact every aspect of your life.

One of the most remarkable breakthroughs in neuroscience has been discovering our brain's ability to change and redesign itself. We used to think that we were born with all the brain cells we'd ever have and that our brains would never change or gradually devolve. We now know, however, that our brain is able to make new neurons and new connections throughout our lives. The scientific word for this is neuroplasticity. The good news is that by tapping into our brain's ability to regenerate itself, we can rewire and strengthen our brain. In other words, we are the architects of our own minds.

By developing new interests and engaging in activities that stir our passion we can keep our minds, young and healthy. When we are passionate about what we are doing it enhances our brain's ability to learn and remember. By enriching your mind each day with new experiences and information you are building up what is called a "cognitive reserve." It's like putting money in the bank -- the more information you have stored over time, the more resilient your brain will become.

So the message for this week is simple. Start tapping into the power of your brain to change by being open to new experiences and striving to learn something new every day. In doing so, you will begin forge new neural pathways and make new connections. Actually, you've already started. The simple act of reading this blog has physically changed your brain. I also hope you will start taking good care for your most precious organ and provide it with a nurturing environment so you can enjoy the full potential of your mind.

Have a Beautiful Brain Day!