Once you hit the age of 40 or so, it’s normal to have some concerns about the effects of age on your brain. Will your midlife adult brain still be as sharp as it was in your 20s, or will you suddenly struggle to remember where you left your keys?
Fortunately, the outlook is more positive than you may think. While it’s possible to encounter a few issues, the midlife adult brain is still capable of change, and it can actually be stronger than ever during your 40s and beyond. In this article, we’ll clear up a few misconceptions about the midlife adult brain and discuss some strategies for staying sharp.
Understanding the Midlife Adult Brain
The youthful brain is known for its plasticity, or capacity to adapt and change. However, studies have shown that the midlife adult brain may be just as adaptable and plastic as that of young people.
A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience examined a group of individuals who were left with speech impairments following a series of strokes. It has long been believed that there was limited hope for recovery from these post-stroke impairments; however, MRI imaging indicated that the areas immediately surrounding the damaged region of the brain exhibited increased plasticity after intense speech therapy. These surrounding areas adapted and took on new roles, and patients whose brains experienced these changes displayed more drastic improvements than those who did not.1
Debunking the Myths
There are a number of misconceptions about the midlife adult brain that contribute to people’s concerns about aging. For example, one pervasive myth states that we lose millions of brain cells as we age, starting in midlife. Studies have debunked this notion, confirming that most healthy people keep the majority of their brain cells for their entire lifespan.2
Another common misperception is that your brain is at its peak functioning during your 20s. Again, this has been proven to be untrue. Not only is the brain capable of maintaining most of its skills, it can also rewire itself and acquire new abilities. A pivotal study tracked the cognitive abilities of a group of adults over a span of 50 years. These adults performed better on cognitive tests during middle age than they did as young adults.3
A healthy lifestyle is good for both your body and your mind. Some specific habits can keep your mind sharp and help head off cognitive decline at any age:
- Regular physical activity
- Getting an adequate amount of sleep
- A balanced diet
- Limited alcohol consumption
- Avoiding smoking
- Positive social connections
There’s no need to view middle age as “the beginning of the end.” Research makes it clear that the midlife adult brain is capable of maintaining the strengths of youth and even acquiring some new skills. With a positive attitude, you can embrace this opportunity to invest in your cognitive health and protect your brain against the effects of aging.