Your brain has the ability to learn and grow as you age — a process called brain plasticity — but for it to do so, you have to train it regularly. Cognitive skills are the core skills your brain uses to think, read, learn, remember, reason, and pay attention. Working together, they take incoming information and move it into the bank of knowledge. Each of your cognitive skills plays an integral part in processing new information. That means if even one of these skills is weak, no matter what kind of information is coming your way, grasping, retaining, or using that information is impacted. Most learning struggles are caused by one or more weak cognitive skills. Eventually, your cognitive skills will wane, and thinking and memory will be more challenging, so you need to build up your reserve. Mental decline is common, and it's one of the most feared consequences of ageing. But cognitive impairment is not inevitable. This may lead to cases like Alzheimer's in a few occurrences. We can delay the process of degeneration of our cognitive skills by various methods. Let's look into some ways:
Mental Stimulation is Key
Through research with humans, scientists have found that brainy activities stimulate new connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells, developing neurological "plasticity" and building up a functional reserve that provides a hedge against future cell loss. Any mentally stimulating activity should help to build up your brain. Read, take courses, try "mental gymnastics," such as word puzzles or math problems, experiment with things that require manual dexterity as well as mental efforts, such as drawing, painting, and other crafts.
Here are some tasks you can do:
- Reasoning training
- Memory tasks.
- Attention tasks
- Information processing tasks
Research shows that using your muscles also helps your mind. Exercising regularly increase the number of tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the region of the brain that is responsible for thought which has been experimented on animals. Exercise also spurs the development of new nerve cells and increases the connections between brain cells (synapses). This results in brains that are more efficient, plastic, and adaptive, which translates into better performance in ageing animals. Exercise also lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, helps blood sugar balance and reduces mental stress, all of which can help your brain as well as your heart.
Aerobic fitness has also been associated with enhanced cognition and learning in children and since a dose-response relationship between improved fitness and cognition and learning in children has been reported, improving fitness through physical activity may be more effective than focusing on increasing physical activity. This can start early in life, as the feasibility of integrating physical activity in young children attending preschools has been established.
Several recent studies suggest that exercise intensity may be vital for improving cognitive function, learning, and academic achievement in children and adolescents. The intensity varies from person to person. Exercising more leads to muscle strain which may cause ligaments tearing up. Make sure you exercise as much as necessary. Any form of exercise works if it suits you and increases your physical strength. Keep exercising every day with a break in between 4-5 days as this will give enough rest to your muscles to take rest and become more active and healthier for the rest of the days.
Improve your diet
Proper nutrition can help your mind as well as your body. For example, people that eat a Mediterranean style diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, unsaturated oils (olive oil) and plant sources of proteins are less likely to develop cognitive impairment and dementia. Here is a brief look at what Mediterranean style diet looks like. Saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol are the bad guys. Good fats are monounsaturated (found in olive oil, for example) and polyunsaturated (found in such foods as fish, canola oil, and walnuts). The Mediterranean diet has a moderate amount of fat, but much of it comes from healthful monounsaturated fats and unsaturated omega-3 fats. It is high in carbohydrates, but most of the carbs come from unrefined, fibre-rich foods. It is also high in fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish, with only modest amounts of meat and cheese. You can have a look at the detailed style of diet and the food you need to eat to have good cognitive skills here.
Manage your blood pressure
High blood pressure in midlife increases the risk of cognitive decline in old age. Use lifestyle modification to keep your blood pressure within healthy levels. Stay lean, exercise regularly, limit your alcohol to two drinks a day, reduce stress, and eat right.
Sleep; especially in Children
As with diet and physical activity, children's sleep health—as indicated by the duration, timing, and quality of sleep, and the presence of sleep disorders—is an additional modifiable aspect of children's functioning, with critical connections to children's learning and development. Sleep health is also directly related to children's diets. Research has revealed a vital role for sleep in physical and mental health and wellbeing, including memory formation and learning, cognitive function, expressive and receptive language, and social and emotional function. For example, shorter sleep duration is associated with externalizing behavioural problems and lower cognitive performance at school entry. As another example, longer sleep onset latencies, multiple-night disturbances, and the presence of insomnia are associated with lower child IQ measures, and problems with self-regulatory abilities, such as following instructions. All the above cases also apply to adults, but the results came out to be less prominent. But sleep is an essential part of your healthy lifestyle, which you can more about here.
Improve your blood sugar and cholesterol
Diabetes is a significant risk factor for dementia. You can help prevent diabetes by eating right, exercising regularly, and staying lean. But if your blood sugar stays high, you'll need medication to achieve reasonable control. High levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of dementia. Diet, exercise, weight control, and avoiding tobacco will go a long way toward improving your cholesterol levels. But if you need more help, ask your doctor about medication.
Avoid the Use of Tobacco and Alcohol
Excessive drinking is a significant risk factor for dementia. If you choose to drink, limit yourself to two drinks a day. All forms of tobacco should be avoided as this increases the rate of degeneration of cognitive skills exponentially.
Be Socially Active
Strong social ties have been associated with a lower risk of dementia, as well as lower blood pressure and longer life expectancy. It's vital for you to make informed decisions about where and how they may want to live as they age, as accommodation choices could either facilitate social activities or hinder individuals from maintaining a vibrant social life. Something as basic as how long it takes to drive or walk to a friend's house can make a big difference as we get older.
Finally, I'd like to conclude by saying that exercise, sleep, diet, social interactions are essential for you to to extend cognitive skills as much as possible because it starts to degenerate as we start growing old.