THE studies are cruelly consistent: by the age of 45, your basic cognitive abilities begin to slip. As we get older, the crucial brain regions involved in memory, attention and perception begin to shrink and no longer communicate with one another as efficiently as they once did. You may find that you aren’t quite as quick as you once were. It takes longer to recall where you left your keys, more effort to help your kids with their maths homework.
Except that isn’t the final word. There are plenty of science-backed strategies for keeping your brain fitter for longer. And it is never too late to begin.
1. Flex your mental muscle
The brain is often likened to a muscle, and for good reason: give it a good workout and it will stay strong. But what does that really mean?
A few years ago, headlines were full of claims about brain-training apps and computer games that offered a shortcut to improved cognitive fitness. But these have largely been debunked. “There’s no magic activity that will do it,” says Yaakov Stern, a neuropsychologist at Columbia University in New York.
Instead, the trick seems to be to find activities that boost what’s known as cognitive reserve. You can think of this as spare mental capacity, a kind of extra padding that allows your brain to sustain more damage before you feel the effects. The concept has been used to explain why two people with Alzheimer’s disease, and the same amount of damaging protein plaques in their brain, may not be equally affected.
Studies have linked this cognitive …