How Lifestyle and Technology Can Help Keep Our Brains Young

How Lifestyle and Technology Can Help Keep Our Brains Young

It's long been established that our lifestyles significantly contribute to our overall health and longevity. Now, scientists are exploring whether new technology can also help slow down the brain's aging process by monitoring its changes over time.

One sunny morning in Loma Linda, an hour east of Los Angeles, 76-year-old Marijke and her husband Tom invited me to breakfast. They served oatmeal, chia seeds, and berries, avoiding processed sugary cereals and coffee, reflecting the purity of Loma Linda’s mission. Loma Linda is recognized as one of the world's Blue Zones, regions where people enjoy longer-than-average lifespans, particularly among the Seventh-Day Adventist Church community. Their healthy lifestyle, which includes abstaining from alcohol and caffeine, a vegetarian or vegan diet, and a strong focus on physical well-being, is a central tenet of their religion. This "health message" has drawn significant research interest, highlighting the community’s extended lifespan and healthspan—four to five extra healthy years for women and seven for men.

Marijke and Tom, who joined the community later in life, are now fully integrated into its culture of health lectures, musical gatherings, and exercise classes. Judy, a resident of an assisted living facility with 112 others, emphasized the importance of social interaction for brain health, noting that without it, the brain "seems to shrink and go away." Science supports the benefits of social connections in combating loneliness.

Advancements in technology now allow us to track and potentially treat aging brains more effectively. Personalized, predictive, and preventative healthcare, powered by AI and big data, is becoming crucial. Lara Lewington visited California to meet scientists researching brain health. Andrei Irimia, associate professor at the University of Southern California, uses AI and MRI data from 15,000 brains to study aging patterns and diseases like dementia. After analyzing Lewington's functional MRI scan, he found her brain age to be eight months older than her chronological age, within a two-year error margin.

Private companies like Brainkey are commercializing this technology, offering accessible MRI scans with enhanced imaging quality. Owen Philips, Brainkey’s founder, believes that these advancements allow for earlier detection of brain changes, aiding in personalized treatment.

Despite the technological advancements, lifestyle remains key to healthy aging. Good diet, physical activity, mental stimulation, and happiness are crucial. Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, emphasizes sleep as vital for brain and body health, noting its role in clearing harmful proteins associated with Alzheimer’s. Sleep pattern changes, starting as early as our 30s, could serve as early indicators of dementia.

Fauna Bio, a biotech company near San Francisco, studies ground squirrels’ hibernation to understand neuron regrowth and brain connection restoration, aiming to develop drugs that replicate this process in humans.

Depression, untreated, also increases dementia risk. Professor Leanne Williams of Stanford University has developed a method to visualize depression on brain scans, aiding in treatment evaluation.

Tech entrepreneur Bryan Johnson is investing millions to reverse his biological age through a rigorous regimen of supplements, fasting, workouts, and various treatments. However, 103-year-old Mildred from Loma Linda advises a balanced approach to life, emphasizing the importance of enjoyment alongside a healthy diet.

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