In the next few decades we are likely to see a significant extension in human longevity, continuing one of the most important trends in modern history. The average human lifespan in most parts of the world is now double what it was in 1800, and some of today’s scientists are confident that there are people alive right now that will live to 150 years of age or older.
And while there are a variety of exciting and promising technological advances that seem poised to keep extending human lifespans, the subject of aging brains and cognitive decline sometimes takes a backseat to treatments that keep the rest of the body youthful.
But brain health is critically important to making increased longevity worthwhile. Few would consider the ability to live to 150 to be appealing if the last 50 years of life were spent in a mental fogl. The issue of cognitive fitness in old age is only going to become more pressing as the average human lifespan continues to increase. If it is in fact true that there are people currently alive who will ultimately live for 150 years or longer, they would benefit from taking steps today to strengthen and preserve their brain function for the many years to come.
Here’s a look at three methods of preserving brain health and cognitive fitness that will help you stay mentally sharper for longer in the decades to come.
Scientists have known for decades that regular physical activity is one of the best ways to keep an aging brain healthy. Study after study has shown that physical fitness is a powerful weapon against Alzheimer’s disease and related conditions, delaying memory loss and improving cognitive fitness in a variety of different ways.
Unfortunately, aging can be a vicious cycle that makes it difficult for seniors to maintain recommended levels of fitness. Age-related physical deterioration can lead to seniors being less active, which in turn leads to a decline in brain function. In this way, conditions like arthritis which don’t impact the brain directly can go hand-in-hand with cognitive decline and impairment.
Fortunately, healthcare advances and longevity treatments are currently being developed that are going to make it easier for people to remain physically active as they age. Stem cells have shown promise in treating conditions like arthritis and heart disease. These are two of the most common ailments that make physical activity a challenge for seniors. And there’s also the emerging field of senolytic drugs, which target aged, dysfunctional cells for destruction. In laboratory tests these drugs have been shown to dramatically increase physical vitality in mice, allowing the test animals to run further and perform better on physical tests after just two weeks on a senolytic treatment.
With treatments like these making it possible for seniors to remain physically active into their later years, we can expect to see more niche fitness industries targeting older people in the decades to come. Thanks to the clear and positive relationship between physical fitness and brain health, regular exercise will remain one of the most important ways to keep mentally sharp as humans live longer.
We’ve all heard of the term “brain foods,” and as it turns out there’s real science behind that concept. Nutritionists recommend a “healthy dietary pattern that includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains” and that it’s best to try “to get protein from plant sources and fish and choose healthy fats, such as olive oil or canola, rather than saturated fats.” In general, foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and antioxidants have been shown through extensive testing to be good for brain health.
On the subject of food and nutrition, it’s also important to discuss brain health supplements. Vitamins and minerals intended to improve brain function are more popular than ever, but unfortunately there is currently very little scientific evidence that these supplements actually make a positive difference for those who take them. Aside from very specific age-related issues like vitamin B deficiency, in which case supplements or injections may be recommended by a physician, experts agree that most “brain health” supplements are more marketing than science. That won’t necessarily always be the case as supplement science improves, but that’s the scientific consensus right now.
If you’re interested in a particular brain health supplement, most physicians and scientists would recommend that you seek out the vitamins and minerals. it is best to find it naturally, via brain foods in your diet, rather than relying on pills. Research suggests that nutrients in food are much more effective than those taken in pill form. Omega-3 fatty acids are a good example of this, as the science behind their effectiveness as supplements is mixed at best, but nearly everyone studied benefits from having more fish (a natural source of omega-3s) in their diet.
Many of the emerging facets of longevity science hold promise for improved brain function in old age. One example of this can be seen in recent laboratory tests involving the protein klotho, which researchers have been able to elevate in mice. Klotho has “numerous protective effects on organs throughout the body” but specifically holds promise for keeping brains “young.” It has been shown to produce beneficial effects for learning and memory for both young and aging mice, as well as helping with “some of the motor deficits found in Parkinson’s disease.”
And klotho is just the tip of the scientific iceberg. Protein, hormone, and gene-based therapies for the aging brain are all picking up speed. “Parabiosis,” or the transfusion of “young” blood into older bodies, has been shown effective in clinical trials at introducing key compounds that help with the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.
While there isn’t yet one proven “silver bullet” treatment for the problems that come with aging brains, there’s a lot of justifiable hope that these treatments will help address the problems of declining cognitive function in old age over the coming decades.
Cognitive fitness is more important than ever
In centuries past, the average human didn’t live long enough for brain function in old age to be a major concern. But between established medical science and cutting edge longevity treatments, it’s likely that there are humans alive today who will live to be at least 150 years old. With that possible future now open to so many, preserving and improving brain function into “senior” years is more important than ever before.
Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for emerging anti-aging therapies to be tested and released to the public in order to start taking action to enhance your brain health. Eating a proper diet and getting regular exercise are the best ways to build a strong neurological foundation. These habits will help keep one cognitively fit and ready for a lifespan many decades longer than that of humans of the past.