It seems a long time since I was in grade school.
I can still remember having a science class where the teacher handed round a model of a human brain.
It looked kind of creepy and I wasn’t keen to touch it!
But I can still hear him talking about how we, at about eleven, had all the brain cells we’d ever have in our lives.
Not only that, but we’d lose about 10,000 of them every day.
I had visions of me losing cells all over the classroom and my house!
As it turns out, that teacher was mostly wrong about the brain cells.
It’s true that the brain discards used cells and bits of waste, but actually you can grow new cells, as your brain needs them.
The more that you require your brain to learn or do, the faster your neurons create dendrites to reach out to make connections with other neurons in your brain.
If you are getting lazy in your thinking, then your brain doesn’t need any new connections so, of course, as you get older, your brain shrinks in size. Left to itself, your brain will naturally reduce in size by up to 20% by the age of 75 or older.
Recent discoveries by neuroscientists, though, show that intellectual activity will combat normal shrinkage. It truly is a case of ‘use it or lose it’.
Your brain can make new dendritic connections at any age; you can have a youthful brain all of your life.
To be sure that this is true for you, though, you have to push your brain into being more active. Get involved in debates and local campaigns, listen to presentations, try a new genre in reading, and discuss your views knowledgeably afterwards.
Fight the memory loss that some boomers experience by learning new information, trying out new sports, interests and social groups.
Your dendrites will be forced into growth, your brain will expand and you will, even into older age, have an alert, responsive and reliable memory that would have amazed my grade school teacher.
Read other articles in this series to find out how nutrition, stress, sleep and other factors will help your brain stay young for life. Keep your brain sharp at any age
See another article improving your memory