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Human Brains Have Been Getting Bigger – And That Might Help You Avoid Alzheimer’s

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Human Brains Have Been Getting Bigger – And That Might Help You Avoid Alzheimer’s about undefined

Scientists have recently discovered that our brains have grown bigger in recent decades. No one knows exactly why this has happened, but it’s believed that this change in brain size has helped reduce our risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

Despite this development, millions of us will still suffer from memory-destroying brain issues as we get older. Around 7.2 million Americans are now afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2040, because the number of older Americans is growing, that number is expected to reach approximately 11 million. That’s a staggering number but, while still worryingly large, would have been projected to be much bigger if the per capita rate of Alzheimer’s had not been going down.

So, let’s look at how our changing brain size benefits us and how you can improve your odds of having a bigger brain that better resists memory loss.

Getting A Bigger And Better Brain

Researchers discovered the changes in our brain size during a recent study of brain health and brain size conducted by researchers at the University of California at Davis. The team found that people born in the 1970s have brains that are 6.6 percent bigger than folks born in the 1930s. Plus, the surface of their brains is 15 percent larger than those born four decades ago.

“The decade someone is born appears to impact brain size and potentially long-term brain health,” says researcher Charles DeCarli, M.D. “Genetics plays a major role in determining brain size, but our findings indicate external influences — such as health, social, cultural, and educational factors — may also play a role.”

That’s good news for us. More on that in a minute…

This study involved analyses of MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) performed on the brains of people participating in the Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948 in Framingham, Massachusetts. The study was set up to examine patterns of heart disease and other health issues, and these MRIs took pictures of the brains of more than 3,000 participants in the research. They were compiled between 1999 and 2019 on people born between 1930 and 1980.

When measuring brain sizes, California researchers found that brain volumes, on average, increased decade after decade. They also found that parts of the brain, such as white and gray matter and the hippocampus (an important memory center), increased in size for those born in the 1970s compared to folks born in the 1930s.

Dr. DeCarli believes this increase in size contributes to the fact that other studies show the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease has been decreasing by 20 percent per decade over the last 50 years.

“Larger brain structures like those observed in our study may reflect improved brain development and improved brain health,” Dr. DeCarli says. “A larger brain structure represents a larger brain reserve and may buffer the late-life effects of age-related brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and related dementias.”

Four Ways to Grow a Larger Brain

If you want to improve your odds of having a bigger brain that’s more resistant to Alzheimer’s disease, other studies have uncovered a host of ways of keeping your brain bigger, some of which we’ve written about before. They include to:

  1. Keep exercising: A study involving more than 20,000 people aged 28 to 97 indicates that those who swim, walk, ride a bike or do some other moderate exercise for at least 25 minutes a week have larger brains than those who are dedicated couch potatoes. [1]
  2. Practice yoga: A study of seniors living in nursing homes found that six months of performing yoga helped to increase hippocampus size. The researchers noted that most older people consistently lose one to two percent of the volume in their hippocampus volume per year – but these yoga-practicing folks still had a net gain in size. [2]
  3. Consume sufficient magnesium: An Australian investigation shows that getting more magnesium in your diet can keep your brain bigger. They advise getting about 550mg of magnesium each day. Foods containing significant amounts of magnesium include legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains and leafy green vegetables. [3]
  4. Eat plenty of fruit: A study in Sweden shows that while people who eat more fruits and vegetables have larger brains, eating fruit is especially important for maintaining the size of the hippocampus. [4]

None of these lifestyle choices are hard to incorporate into your daily routine. But they count for a lot for keeping your brain larger. And remember -- when it comes to brain health, size matters!

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