From where I stand, there is nothing sweeter than a newborn baby. It is so pure, an impeccable blank slate. However, this condition only lasts for a moment. Indeed, as soon as babies are born, they begin growing older, which embarks them on transformative journeys. Actually, this last sentence suggests that ageing starts at birth, but this is not exactly right. We now have legitimate reasons to believe that it would happen before labour even kicks off. Scientists are claiming that they observed the first signs of ageing at the blastocyst stage, which occurs as early as five days after fertilization. Not quite yet an embryo, the blastocyst is composed of three main parts: an inner cell mass (embryoblast), an intramembranous liquid (blastocoel) and an outer cell layer (trophoblast).
The embryoblast, which results from many cellular divisions, is responsible for forming what becomes the early embryo. So, we seem to possess a better understanding of the moment when ageing begins. Yet, we don’t really grasp what is going on before the blastocyst stage, but we know a few things. We realize that the blastocyst comes from the cellular divisions of the fertilized eggs. We also recognize that the female gametes, at the time of fertilization, can be very old. They can be anywhere between 12 and 51 years old, which corresponds to our reproductive age. Thus, the reason behind our ability to produce offspring that are cellularly and physically younger than us is pretty enigmatic. Somehow, the cells go through a reversal ageing process, but there is no existing explanation yet revealing how this process could even be possible.
Anyhow, even if research on ageing is still failing to reveal the mysteries behind this rejuvenation—maybe it is time travel, we do not know! 😉—, we are still discovering quite a lot about ageing in human development. We presently realize the power we each hold in slowing down ageing and potentially reversing it to some extent. At this point, we are all aware of the public recommendation promoted by our respective health officials to reduce physiological ageing. We should adopt a healthy diet that may include fruits and vegetables, oily fish and nuts. And should exclude most, if not all, processed food. We should get at least 3 hours 30 min to 4 hours of physical activities per week. One-third of that time should be used toward vigorous aerobic activities and two-thirds toward moderate aerobic activities. At last, we should all sleep enough, which approximately corresponds to eight hours per night. I know you’ve heard about all these health recommendations, and each of them probably more than once. Yet, the recommendations for proper brain care are clearly not as well advertised, even though some of them are considerably similar.
Still, we should be even more careful about our brains since they contain the oldest cells of the human body, neurons. Even though we can still generate a few neurons throughout our life, most neurons that we have will never be substituted. Typically, once neurons die, they are gone forever. Thus, we must take great care of these wondrous cells and provide them with the proper stimulation they require and rest. Research has revealed some crucial roles that the brain must fulfill in order to thrive. It seems to all rest on these three elements: executive function (thinking and reasoning), social cognition (interacting with others) and emotional regulation (maintaining a state of well-being). And similarly to the physiological health guidelines, our cerebral health also has its own set of recommendations for us to follow.
Caring for our brain might very well be the same as caring for our gut microbiota. Our gastrointestinal tract hosts a vast and complex range of microorganisms. These microorganisms are essential to our overall health, as well as our brains. They are responsible for absorbing minerals and nutrients, synthesizing enzymes, vitamins and amino acids and producing short-chain fatty acids. Moreover, in recent years, it has come to our knowledge that these microorganisms were also responsible for even more than previously thought. For example, scientists have discovered that a few were able to produce certain neurotransmitters, like serotonin. This revelation suggests that our gut may have more impact on our well-being than what we are attributing them. But caring for our digestive tract can be a sensitive task since any slight change to our environment might jeopardize it. The most important risk (after a faulty diet, of course!) might be regularly switching our intimate partners. Kissing exchanges microorganisms, some foreign to us, which may attack and endanger that sweet balance gained over our lifetime. On that front, I risk nothing; I’ve kept the same partner for over ten years. I’m safe!
Although our gut may also benefit from a stable and healthy diet, our brain might prefer a fattier diet. Beware that I am not talking about fast food or processed food here; I am merely talking about healthy unsaturated fat. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids have been gaining a lot of attention in the last decade. And now we know more about their impact on the brain. Even though we eat lots of omega-6 fatty acids, we don’t eat enough omega-3 fatty acids. We now consider the ideal ratio to be 1:4, compared to our average consumption ratio of 20:1 (omega-6: omega-3). Omega-6 is essential, but we should consume it moderately. Whereas omega-3 fatty acids have a neuroprotective effect and, as such, we should eat more of them. A good source of omega-3 fatty acids is oily fish, spinach and flax seeds. I typically also enjoy chia seeds and walnuts as my source for omega-3.
To protect our brain, we also need to stay active. Other than the previously mentioned guideline, we must remember to get up every hour of sedentary work for at least 10 minutes. Otherwise, we risk abolishing all the gain produced from our regular activities. If you follow these rules correctly, you might fully deserve your beauty sleep. And it is genuinely as important to sleep as to eat or be active. Despite what we have all come to understand, it is wrong to believe that we need to sleep less as we age. Studies have revealed that it does not matter how old you get; you still need those 7 – 9 hours of sleep every night. Personally, I love going to sleep, and I won’t complain about this recommendation.
Now that we have mentioned digestion, diet, physical activity, and sleep, what more can there be? Three more things. We must try our best to nurture our social relationships. Being social is essential to reduce stress and loneliness, which comes under emotional regulation. Then, we can find a new skill to learn. How about learning a new language? How about Russian? Learning Russian was the endeavour I assigned myself three years ago. Although I am improving, I am not nearly disciplined enough that I can speak it yet. Still, I can understand a decent amount of written words.
There is one last piece of advice to strive for, which is to stay happy. Personally, this pursuit of happiness is not technically a pursuit. I have learnt to embrace all the positive that life has to offer while trying to let go of the negative. Happiness seems to be not the absence of the negative but the experience of the positive. I realized that achieving an overall state of happiness meant staying present. I had to learn to let go of regrets and past trauma and explore the distant future only as a thought.
I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.
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