Body & Fitness

How your brain changes with age

As we grow, so do our brains. But when do we reach peak mental performance?

Researchers have found new ways to keep your brain fit and healthy.

Here are the stages the brain goes through as we age:


When you’re born, only the basic brain nerves for survival are firing, such as your reflexes. A rapid period of growth then follows. Your brain quadruples in size over the first four years of life as new stimuli form synapses.


In early childhood, the process of ‘myelination’ is constant. This allows nerve cells to transmit information faster to build more complex brain processes. Neurons settle into pathways depending on your environment, eg whether it’s happy or fearful. Personality traits develop as a result.


Myelination in the frontal lobes is complete by adolescence, and the speed at which you process new information is at its fastest. The prefrontal cortex begins to branch out as concepts of judgement and reasoning develop. The amygdala, which regulates emotions, is less developed.

Early adulthood

Your brain reaches adulthood in your 20s. Neuron growth slows, and between the ages of 45 and 49 your capacity for short-term memory, such as facial recognition, slows too. However, your social and emotional skills are growing stronger.


Total accumulation of knowledge is at its peak. In other words, you’re the wisest you’ve ever been.

Late adulthood

After the age of 70 your limbic brain is at its strongest. Your neural pathways have stronger links to the amygdala, giving you better emotional and social responses. Your intelligence peaks, drawing on a lifetime of accumulated knowledge from your long-term memory. However, the downside is that at this point your short-term memory needs active exercise to keep it firing!

For ways to keep your brain youthful, check out the August issue of NEXT.

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