A few months ago, my 6-year-old daughter was in the hospital. Her hospital roommate was a two-year-old girl with brain cancer.
I talked to this girl’s mother, and as it turned out, she had done everything she knew how to do to raise her daughter in an especially healthy environment. She and her husband had moved to an organic farm in northern California when their first child was born to avoid the smoggy air of urban living. They ate exclusively organic, locally raised food. They were careful in their choice of products–from children’s clothes to household cleaners–to prevent their children’s contact with chemicals as much as possible. And yet, when her daughter was just under 2, she suddenly stopped walking. A trip to the doctor revealed that an aggressive, cancerous tumor the size of a softball–and still growing–was the cause.
This experience reminded me that while we can take every step imaginable to maintain our personal health, there’s some aspect of luck at play. We can’t prevent everything. Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Although a tragedy like this one can strike any individual, lifestyle can make it less likely or more likely.
Clinical studies typically show trends and averages. When a study shows that obesity puts you at risk for a heart attack, it doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed NOT to have a heart attack if you’re thin. But your chances are lower.
It’s similar with taking care of your brain. At this point, there is no way to make 100% sure that you will live to the end of life in full possession of your cognitive capabilities. But there is a lot you can do to increase your chances. Using our brain training exercises is one. Exercising, eating healthily, having a rich social life, and challenging yourself with new activities are others. Each of these has concrete evidence for bringing benefits to the aging brain–and increases your chances of matching brain-span to lifespan.