And perhaps that's in some of our best interests at the moment, with a new study indicating the Covid pandemic may have impacted the brain health of people aged 50 and over in the UK.
An analysis of more than 3,000 volunteers who completed yearly questionnaires and online cognitive tests to measure changes in things like memory throughout the pandemic revealed a decline, regardless of infection.
Researchers said this could be down to factors exacerbated by the pandemic, such as not exercising enough and drinking too much alcohol, as well as loneliness and depression.
Analysis showed the rate of cognitive decline quickened in the first year of the pandemic, and was higher among those who had already shown signs of mild cognitive decline before the outbreak of Covid-19.
The pattern continued into the second year of the pandemic, which researchers said suggests an impact beyond the initial national lockdowns in 2020 and 2021.
"Our findings suggest that lockdowns and other restrictions we experienced during the pandemic have had a real, lasting impact on brain health in people aged 50 or over [up to 90], even after the lockdowns ended," says Anne Corbett, professor of dementia research and lead of the Protect Study [published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity] at the University of Exeter.
"This raises the important question of whether people are at a potentially higher risk of cognitive decline which can lead to dementia.
"It is now more important than ever to make sure we are supporting people with early cognitive decline, especially because there are things they can do to reduce their risk of dementia later on."
On a positive note, Dag Aarsland, a professor of old age psychiatry at King’s IoPPN adds, "There is evidence that lifestyle changes and improved health management can positively influence mental functioning."
So, with us becoming less concerned about our appearance (which there is also nothing wrong with), and more concerned with preserving our health, a reminder to nurture our brain health couldn't come at a better time – and it's never too early to start.
At a glance, online UK searches for 'Tips for brain health' have soared +133% in the past year, while 'How to keep my skin young' has dropped -9% in the same period, according to language learning platform Preply.
And, perhaps influenced by the Netflix documentary Live to 100, which uncovers the day-to-day lives of people living within 'Blue Zones' (areas in the world that seem to be making this goal more achievable for many), online searches for 'How to live to 100' spiked +127% worldwide in the past month, with 12,000 people researching what they can do to benefit their cognitive health.
So, to help you get ahead of the game, a neurologist has explained what could be impacting our brain health, and how to start preserving it today.
What can affect our brain health?
"The health of the brain is strongly experience-dependent. This means that a significant part of our brain health is determined by the environment in which we live and the life experiences we've had. There are therefore lots of factors which influence a person's brain health – from their diet and ultra-processed food consumption, to how regularly they exercise and how well they sleep," says Dr Jennifer Newson PhD (Oxon), in-house neuroscience consultant at Children of Earth Skincare.
"We also live in an increasingly man-made chemical environment and it's been shown that some harmful chemicals found in commonly used products can cross the blood-brain barrier, where they can potentially disrupt brain functioning and health."
What is the best age to start working on our brain health?
"It is never too early – even what happens in utero (in the womb) can affect a person's brain health in later life. Also, childhood is a critical period for brain development, which ultimately influences the health of the brain in the long-term," Dr Newson points out.
What lifestyle changes can we make to enhance our brain health?
"The health of your brain influences everything about how you think, feel and act. Although everyone is different and has their own starting point for further improving their brain health, there are some general factors that are known to be important," explains the neurologist, encouraging us to start making some simple lifestyle adjustments today.
Research-informed and expert-approved, with the help of Preply, these are as follows...
Your seven-step anti-brain ageing daily routine
Take 30 minutes a day to meditate and be mindful. Only eight weeks of daily meditation can decrease negative mood and anxiety and improve attention, working memory, and recognition memory in non-experienced meditators, findings from a study published in Behavioural Brain Research show.
2. Utilise food as brain fuel
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is essential for looking after your overall health, and as Dr Newson points out, food consumption also influences brain health. Reducing the number of over-processed foods we are eating and increasing the intake of foods that are high in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, flavonoids, vitamins B, D and E, and choline can help to improve cognitive function.
3. Stay active
While this might not be as appealing in winter, Dr Newson advises that regularly exercising is great for cognitive health, so aim to keep your body moving (even if just in short bursts indoors). Findings from The Journal of Physiology show that implementing six short minutes of high-intensity exercise could extend the lifespan of a healthy brain.
4. Prioritise sleep
With the demands of work and home life, this one can feel hard to do at times, but there are many expert-approved ways to at least sleep better that you can try (from limiting your alcohol intake to tiring yourself out like a child).
According to Dr. Newson, a study by Nature Ageing claims that seven hours of sleep each night is the optimal amount for good cognitive health.
5. Be a social butterfly
Obviously we don't mean doing this one to the point of burnout – just be mindful that your only daily interactions aren't from behind a laptop screen.
Dr Newson recommends that social engagement and building close relationships with family, friends and community is a great lifestyle habit to maintain good brain health. Research published by Harvard Health states that 'Socialising can stimulate attention and memory, and help to strengthen neural networks.'
6. Take part in intellectual activities
Dr Newson notes the importance of being curious. This could include solving a puzzle, reading a thought-provoking book, tackling a new hobby or even trying out certain video games. Apparently these activities can boost memory and thinking skills, while also being a bit of fun.
7. Learn a new skill
It's never too late to learn something new – it could even keep your brain young.
"Learning languages triggers 'neuroplasticity,' where your brain forms fresh connections and stays nimble. This is vital for keeping your mind sharp. Plus, it's like giving your memory a turbo boost – as you master new words and grammar, you're actually enhancing both short-term and long-term memory," says methodology and language expert Sylvia Johnson.
While these measures alone can't guarantee your brain will stay free of ill health (and you should consult a doctor about anything you're worried about or before making big lifestyle changes), they can certainly help give you it's best chance.
Additional reporting PA.
Read more: Just six minutes of exercise per day can boost brain power in middle age, study finds (Yahoo Life UK, 3-min read)
Read more: Feeling listened to boosts our brain health, study suggests (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)
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