I was talking with a friend of mine about her father. He doesn’t have dementia, but he just isn’t as sharp as he used to be. Obviously, my friend is sad about this and worried that she too will lose her mental acuity as she gets older. When I explained that she could actually get SMARTER with age, she was surprised.
I’d like YOU to know how to get smarter with age, too. The solution is so simple.
A Slow Decline Is Not Inevitable
Let me start by saying that most people simply accept the notion that their brains (and memories) will shrink with age. In fact, MRI scans show that an area of the brain called the hippocampus (our memory center) often does, in fact, get smaller with age. But hippocampal and memory shrinkage are NOT inevitable.
Researchers have found that new growth in brain cells (called neurogenesis) is enhanced under the influence of a protein known as BDNF, which is produced in animals when they get aerobic exercise. We now have solid evidence that the same thing happens in humans.
Neuroscientist Kirk Erikson and his team from the University of Pittsburgh followed 120 adults over the span of a year. Half of the group were given a stretching program to perform three times per week, while the other half did aerobic exercise three times per week. After one year, the two groups were evaluated with the following:
- MRI scans to see the size of the hippocampus,
- serum blood tests for levels of the protein BDNF
- And tests for memory function.
The results of the study, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, were astounding:
Major Finding #1: The stretching group had a DECLINE in all 3 areas studied.
Major Finding #2: The aerobic group showed improvement in memory, increases in the size of their hippocampus, and increases in their blood levels of BDNF.
The Bottom Line Is
Aerobic exercise — which can be started at any age — increases the growth of new stem cells in the brain, which grow into fully functioning neurons and lead to better brain function. My recommendations are:
Get 20 minutes of aerobic exercise six times per week.
Shoot for a heart rate of 180 minus your age (this is really easy). So if you are fifty, your target heart rate for aerobic exercise is 130 heart beats per minute.
Add DHA Supplementation to Your Routine
DHA (an omega-3 fat) has been shown to turn on BDNF production. So take a supplement or eat foods which contain this essential fat.
Finally, watch out for those cultural portals! They don’t have to be your truth. It’s important to find out what you believe about mental acuity and whether it wanes as you grow older. Do you think it is inevitable to decline with age? If not, what do YOU do to keep your mind sharp? I would love to read your suggestions, so please leave a comment about your experiences.
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Hello Dr. Northrup,
Thank you for your wonderful videos. I will do what you have advised. My age is a wonderful 68 years and I feel so young; with your suggestions and when I apply them, I believe that I will feel absolutely amazing. Thank you.
Hi Dr. Northrop
This is Gricelda and I love your messages and you are so positive. I am 42 and I feel young but when I hear you I feel much younger thank you for helping us women, Good Bless you.
This is so happy for me Christiane because my dad exercises even more than I do (and I exercise regularly!)! I’m so happy to hear this, another reason I am grateful for my father! Thank you!
Well, he doesn’t do 20 min 6x a week but definitely a couple of hours on the weekends!
I (40 years) find this post so valuable. My mum is a dementia patient and as her caregiver I am sure your continuous advise will motivate me to take care or improve my health (as my level of BP is often over 140 /90 and am under medication) and refrain my a similar situation, whilst doing my utmost for my mother, my 6 year old daughter and husband.
I did subscribe and am looking forward to receiving your useful tips Dr.
Thank you for your time and effort to aid people from a sickness such as this which is commonly heard of. And “Thank you” for your words of encouragement on Aerobics.
Thank you once again.
At 44 years of age I took beginners ballet classes; now 4 years later, I perform every year on stage. Everything improved, memory, happiness, physical abilities, no pain, no stress. Ballet is not for everyone but there’s Yoga, swimming, hiking…..I owed it to myself and now I am super fit and healthy. 🙂
Hello Dr. Northrup,
I am celebrating my 2nd year of remission from Breast Cancer. I finally am feeling more myself as each day dawns. My oncologist disagrees with me, but I truly believe in “Chemo Brain” which I suffer from as well as menopause mania . As the days progress toward my 3 year mark, I have found that soy free Phosphatidyl Serine and exercising (Pilates) every week have helped me to increase my memory and recall. The focus that I have to have in performing the Pilates exercises and learning to breath again keeps my brain functioning on a higher level thus cognitive memory is gaining strength. I have shared this with my friends who have gone through cancer and am happy to report they have all increased in cognitive memory. I am going to try the supplement DHA for a couple months and see what happens. Thank you for all that you do.