Our Brains Don’t Slow With Age As Much As We Think

Brains Don't Slow With Age As Much

Our brains don’t slow down until much older than previously thought. Plus, there’s a useful method to train your brain to stay focused no matter what is going on around you.

Over the past few decades, studies have shown the speed at which the human brain can make simple decisions peaks in our twenties, with a rapid decline in mental speed as we get older.

But a new study out of Heidelberg University in Germany shows that our brain speed doesn’t slow down until our 60s.

This new study included more than 1 million participants and as the author of the study Dr. Mischa Von Krause, of Heidelberg University wrote, “Our results show that average levels in mental speed in contexts demanding fast and forced decisions do not decline until relatively late in the lifespan.”

It is true that the average time to give a correct answer peaks at about 20 years old. But the authors of this new study say the brains of older people are still fast, it’s their life experience that makes them more cautious when responding to a question. Put another way, a 20-year-old will confidently sacrifice accuracy for speed. But as the participants grew older, they made fewer mistakes until they hit age 60.

“It looks as though, in the course of our life, we don’t need to fear any substantial losses of mental speed – particularly not in the course of a typical working life,” Von Krause added.

Meanwhile, no matter what your age, in this modern era we face a constant barrage of distractions. So many that neuroscientist Amishi Jha argues that we miss about half our lives due to distractions. But in her recent book “Peak Mind: Find Your Focus,” she says you can retrain your brain. 

Jha argues, first we should stop multitasking, telling Inc. Magazine you should think of your focus like a flashlight — it can’t shine in two places at the same time. Instead, engage in monotasking.

Secondly, take brain breaks throughout the day, using the “STOP” method:

S: stop what you are doing;

T: take a breath;

O: observe what is happening around you;

P: proceed

And finally, practice mindfulness. Take 12 minutes per day to focus on your breath, notice when your mind has wandered, redirect your attention back to your breath, and repeat. The goal isn’t to have no distractions, that’s impossible, but to notice when you are distracted and get back on track. Through this easy practice, Jha says you can retrain your brain to focus and get back the half of your life that is slipping away.

Trouble Sleeping? Here Are 5 Ways to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm

trouble sleeping

Getting the proper amount of sleep can be a challenge, especially for those who travel often. Our circadian rhythms are a very complex balance between our internal clocks and the rotation of the Earth. The exact function of this hypersensitive, natural mechanism hasn’t been fully understood until recently and hopefully it can help shed some light on the issues that plague the sleep-deprived.

What is a Circadian Rhythm?

Last year, a team of scientists was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for their work discovering the precise behavior of the proteins and genetic functions that regulate our sleep and waking patterns. The research of Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young uncovered a protein that accumulates at night and degrades throughout the day, signaling the secretion of certain hormones, such as melatonin which helps us fall asleep, and cortisol that helps us wake up. They made this discovery by studying fruit flies and found that every multicellular organism shares this same function to regulate a cyclical sleep/wake cycle.

Our circadian rhythms vary from person to person, meaning those who claim to be night owls and like to sleep in aren’t lazy, but are actually subject to a different circadian rhythm than those who rise early. Some scientists are calling the grogginess these people face, when forced to submit to society’s business hours, “social jet lag.”

The majority of us ascribe to a similar rhythm, based on the rising and setting of the sun, but even if you have an average rhythm, that cycle gets easily thrown off by a number of factors. In fact, most of us have an internal rhythm that is longer than the 24-hour cycle our society runs on, meaning our bodies must regulate our circadian rhythm on a daily basis to maintain that schedule.

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