In Praise Of… The 50-year-old Brain

It’s no secret that the big five-oh may come with a few unwanted health complaints. A few more jiggly bits that weren’t there a decade ago. Some aches and pains, perhaps. Definitely more hair in unwanted places.

But like a fine wine (and hopefully if you haven’t quaffed too much of it over your time on the planet), there is one part of the body that’s actually doing better in a lot of ways than it did when you were younger.

Believe it or not, it’s your brain. Sure, you’re not as good at multitasking as you used to be, and things are possibly operating a little slower up there too – which can be annoying when grappling with a particularly tricky Sudoko or trying to remember Cousin Janet’s daughter’s name. But your brain has learned to compensate for its slightly slower processing speed by using more of itself, according to studies – something it simply couldn’t or didn’t do when you’re younger. Pretty amazing, right?

In one study, an MRI taken of a teenager working through a problem shows mainly activity on one side of the brain, the area used for conscious reasoning. The amazing upshot of doing the same test on a middle-aged person? It shows both sides of the brain sharing the task equally.

And, research involving air-traffic controllers and airline pilots found that those between the ages of 50 and 69 took more time to learn new equipment than their younger counterparts, but once they had, they made fewer mistakes while using it.

Experts also say the 50-year-old brain is more adept at making rational decisions and has better judgement – helped, no doubt, by a lifetime of memories and experiences. You’re also far more likely to make smarter financial decisions, and enjoy better impulse control (something many of us probably couldn’t lay claim to in our youth).

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Like a fine wine, our brains get better in many ways with time

The 50-year-old brain can reportedly also adapt, absorb new information and gain new skills and wisdom, too. Your reasoning is better. When faced with a problem, you may be slower to come up with a solution, but the one you put on the table will no doubt be more elegant and shrewder than that of a younger person. Research shows you’re better able to articulate in your 50s and you continue expanding your vocabulary as you age, too. (Clearly, there are good reasons why the average age of CEOs in Australia – men and women – is 54).

So, you’re probably feeling smarter, wiser, calmer and more mature right about now. Rightly so; you and your brain have earned it. But that’s not to say you should rest on your, er, noggin.

In fact, if you want to keep your brain in its prime for as long as possible, maintaining a healthy weight and doing as much as you can to challenge your grey matter are key in staying sharp and strong upstairs. Exercise is huge too: it’s well documented some daily cardiovascular activity can go a long way towards maintaining good brain function (particularly the area involved in verbal memory and learning). Lifting weights may work your guns, but it seems you’ve got to break a sweat for your brain to enjoy the knock-on effects.

The best news, though, is that you’ve got a heap of ammo to whip out next time a younger family member starts joking about your doddery ‘senior moments’. You now know better than anyone that you’re far more of a braniac than they are, and actually, it’s all thanks to your age. Who would’ve thought?

What do you do to keep your brain active? 

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