Key Strategies To Age-Proof Your Brain
Keeping our brains young with synapses firing efficiently is key to enjoying our entire lifespan. Let’s explore techniques and strategies for doing just that.
Decluttering your environment. The clutter is distracting. It’s the reminder of the dozen things left undone. My desk has been know to host open books, piled papers, projects started, and semi-abandoned. I refused to put them away for fear of forgetting about the task or project they represent.
However, when a critical mass is reached, where I can no longer lay down another piece of paper or search properly through the mountains of physical data, I’m forced to declutter out of desperation. I start at the top, working through layers like an archeologist digging. I’m not unearthing a fossil; I’m uncovering the surface of my desk.
My first step is to throw out as much obsolete material as possible. Scraps of paper with (still) useful notes I copy into Evernote. I organize papers into project folders and file them. Books go back on shelves, tools returned, and things put away. This takes hours. The organization isn’t quick or easy. I’ve burned more than a few brain cells deciding what to keep and what to throw away. But I eventually clear my space.
Afterward, when I enter my office, I immediately feel more focused. I like seeing my open, orderly desk. I don’t feel the pull of those dozens of projects.
Decluttering the environment helps declutter your mind. We all want to make better use of our time and make better decisions. Decluttering will do both.
A highly rated book on decluttering is Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Journal — Gratitude
Psychological studies have determined that people who keep a journal where gratitude is expressed are happier and less stressed.
Other studies are investigating a gratitude journal to help teenagers manage their Type 1 diabetes.
I have purchased dozens of journals. Unfortunately, none of them provided exactly what I’m looking for in a journal—a combination of goal setting, habit tracking, and yes, gratitude.
In my decluttering sweep, I uncovered a small forgotten treasure. This can happen when decluttering. Four-page design sketches I created representing pages for a comprehensive journal. This design addressed what I felt was lacking in existing journals and reduced or removed what I felt was excessive or unnecessary. Whether I’ll continue to work these papers into a published journal remains to be seen. But uncovering lost or forgotten work is another advantage of decluttering.
There are brain games that advertise themselves to improve cognitive function. A few of them have been taken to court by the FTC and ordered to pay deceptive advertising fines. 
I will not enter the debate on the usefulness of Brain Games to improve cognitive function or slow-down age-related cognitive decline. Some will say yes, and others will say no. Both will point to studies.
Learn Something New
I propose a simple question, why bother with games if your purpose is to boost cognitive function? Instead, apply yourself to learning something new. Now that, to me, is a better use of time.
Learning something new and challenging will boost your cognitive function. And the best thing is, it can be anything you find an interest in; painting, learning a new language, math, dancing, learning to play a musical instrument, yoga, etc.
Sleep is critical. One cannot keep a healthy mind and brain without enough sleep. Sleep deprivation studies bear this out. Loss of sleep is associated with poorer decision making, a loss of appetite control with an increase in hunger (bad combo). Changes in glucose and insulin tolerance lead to increases in obesity and diabetes. [A]
Sleep Is When The Brain Removes Waste
Sleep, as it turns out, is the brain’s waste removal system. The glymphatic system removes harmful amyloid proteins that accumulate in the brain. When you sleep, the ISF space around your brain increases, allowing for the transportation of toxic waste out of the brain. Excessive amyloid proteins are linked to neurological conditions like Alzheimer's.
In the short term, the mild and chronic lack of getting a full night’s sleep may inhibit the complete flushing out all these accumulated brain wastes and be responsible for the effects of sleep deprivation. For instance, the higher rate of obesity among people who average less than seven hours of sleep a night.
Body Repair and Muscle Building
Some people working out at the gym believe they are building muscle at the gym. This is not so. Muscle building occurs after the gym and during sleep. The restorative process repairs the body and builds muscle. Critical to this process is the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1).
About 80 percent of HGH is released during sleep, and it’s the HGH that triggers IGF-1 secretion.
IGF-1 uses the same receptor sites as insulin. If you eat carbohydrates before sleep, your blood sugar rises, the pancreas releases insulin. The insulin binds to its receptor sites blunting the positive effects of IGF-1.
There are many supplements on the market that claim to boost cognitive ability.
I have found two supplements that I believe are of interest, PQQ (Pyrroloquinoline quinone) and Hericium Erinaceus.
PQQ is taken in doses of 20 mg per day. Studies in adults show improvement in cognitive functions, specifically in attention and working memory. PQQ also enhances mitochondria functions.  
Hericium Erinaceus is an edible mushroom. It has been shown to improve cognitive impairment in the elderly. Also, it is an NGF (Nerve Growth Factor) that triggers neural growth and regeneration of damaged nerves. 
Start an Exercise Program
I know, everyone hates this one. A true fountain of youth for both the body and brain.
The brain in young adults shrinks about 1.9 percent every 10 years. As one enters their 60s, the rate of loss increases to about 1 percent per year. Shrinkage in gray matter is associated with cognitive decline.
Neuroimaging shows how resistance training and aerobic exercise prevent and reverse the age-related loss of brain tissue (atrophy).
The volume improvements in gray and white brain tissue due to exercise were measured using voxel-based morphometry. Exercise increases volume and improves cognitive performance, and has a beneficial effect on neural plasticity. 
How Much Exercise Is Enough?
Bodyweight exercise is simple and relatively easy to implement. Four 30 minutes sessions of moderate exercise per week. 
If you’re not exercising now, don’t try to jump-start into performing 120 minutes of exercise per week. That is too much too soon and is the most likely a good plan to implement if you want to fail. You may do it for a few weeks, maybe a month? Instead, I recommend starting slowly, performing one bodyweight exercise, less than 1 minute, seven days a week.
Exercise Seven Days a Week
What? You’re thinking I’ve always heard exercising 3–4 times a week is sufficient. That may be true if you’re performing medium level workouts for 30–60 minutes 3–4 times a week. If so, you don’t need this exercise section, skip over it.
Still here? Okay, let’s continue. You probably heard you don’t want to exercise the same muscle every day. I agree with that, so what we will do is a split routine. We will alternate upper body and lower body exercises on alternating days. On the odd seventh day in the week, you can focus on something other than upper and lower body exercise, like yoga, stretching, abdominals, or walking.
What we’re doing here is starting a habit. And to create this habit, you don’t want to be thinking, is this my “on” day or my “off” day. And if it's my on day, maybe I can skip it today and double up on my next on day. Hey, it's only 1 exercise; I can do 2 exercises.
That’s a set-up for eventual failure.
When To Exercise
First thing in the morning when you wake up. You’re doing one exercise. You don’t even need to get up any earlier to perform it. Why the morning? It’s before the day’s plans, obligations, and return phone calls gobble up your time.
Which Exercise To Perform
There are many bodyweight exercises you can perform.
For the upper body, you can choose a push-up.
For the lower body, a squat.
As the days turn to weeks, you may want to perform more than one squat or one push-up. That’s the idea.
As the weeks turn to months, you may even want to add a second exercise to your upper body and lower routines. Yeah.
The key is to exercise consistently to build a habit and, once established, only then increase exercise time and intensity.
You may be thinking, how long do you keep this exercise routine going? The answer is forever.
You can judge for yourself when to increase the time and intensity of your routine. My advice is to proceed slowly. As a guidepost, DO NOT increase the number of exercises, the time, or intensity beyond what you feel comfortable doing for the rest of your life. Ask yourself, am I okay with doing this for the rest of my life? If yes, move forward. If no, hold the position. Feel free to move forward and backward if the increase doesn’t feel right. A maximum is 30 minutes a day.
Remember, exercise is NOT just lifting weights and running track. Any sport or activity that has you moving is a form of exercise like tennis and dancing.
Numerous studies show that meditation slows down brain atrophy, increases gray matter, improves mood, reduces stress, and even increase the body’s immune response. What? Increases the body’s immune response. How did they figure that one out? I had to dig further. Researchers (got to love scientists for their inventiveness), after an 8-week course in meditation for novices, vaccinated the mediators and control group (non-mediators) with an influenza vaccine. The meditators had an increase in antibody titers. Translation increased immune response. 
The key to meditation, like so many other things, is consistency. A few minutes of daily meditation can work wonders. Interestingly, as long as you attempt in earnest, meditation works whether or not you feel successful at the practice. It is the practice and not the perceived outcome.
Daily Five Minute Meditation Practice
Deep rhythmic breathing has many of the same benefits as meditation. So, it's natural to combine the two into your practice.
1) Set a timer for five or six minutes. This way, you do not have to distract yourself by checking the time.
2) Find a comfortable position, sitting, or lying down. Yes, it could even be lying down. I don’t recommend lying down because it’s too easy to fall asleep. Not to worry, you have a timer set in case you do.
3) Relax your body. Do a body scan from your toes to the head, relax any parts that are tense. Sometimes it helps to flex or tense each body part and then relax.
4) Breathe. Focus on your breath. Take natural breaths. You can repeat a focus word in your mind like the word “In” for an inhale and “Out” for exhale. Choose your own words. One, Two, Blue, Green.
5) As you breathe naturally and repeat your focus word(s), be conscious of your breath. Feel how your body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Feel the air entering and exiting your nostrils.
6) Your mind will wander. You’ll think about other things than what you are doing. When you become aware that your mind is wandering, GENTLY, the word is gently, bring your attention back to your breath. Repeat your focus word(s). Do not criticize yourself for losing focus; everyone does; it's natural. Even experienced monks who have meditated for 20+ years lose focus. Granted, experienced meditators can remain focused for longer periods of time.
Again, consistency is the key. As long as you enter this daily practice 4–5X a week, whether you believe your practice is working or not, it is, and you will reap the benefits.
After a month of meditating, I found that I became a little less reactive. I paused a moment before reacting.
I placed yoga after exercise and mediation because yoga embodies both practices. By encompassing both practices it provides benefits to the mind and body associated with exercise and meditation. 
There are many types of yoga, Hatha yoga being one of the more popular styles. 
You can begin a low-cost entry yoga practice with a phone app, book, YouTube videos, or DVD. Instructors are valuable. I would recommend joining a yoga class. Not having an instructor to guide and point out what you may be doing incorrectly will slow your progress.
I have written more extensively on the benefits of yoga here. 
Two B Vitamins appear instrumental in maintaining healthy brain volume, B6, and B12. Not only do the B vitamins slow brain shrinkage, they slow brain shrinkage in the areas affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
One mechanism by which this benefit may be happening is that the B vitamins lower participants’ plasma homocysteine levels. Elevated homocysteine levels cause brain shrinkage and dementia.
Reduce excessive fat to a healthy level. Reducing body fat usually encompasses both diet and exercise. And by diet, I mean nutrition, not a food restrictive diet. Reducing body fat follows the 80/20 rule. It’s 80 percent of what you eat and 20 percent exercise.
To learn more about body fat, read “The Skinny on Fat.” 
Nutrition and bodyweight exercises are beyond this article's scope, but as I post articles on these topics, I will come back and add them here.