A secret to a healthy brain in old age is to be active in your community throughout your life. The more activities in which you take part, the more likely you are to reduce cognitive decline and dementia in later years.
Your activity might be playing sport, taking part in artistic activities, becoming a member of a local club, taking part in a religious group, or volunteering for a community project.Read More »
Staying active helps your brain to store “healthy neurons,” according to a new study at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School. Those neurons improve our thinking skills and boost what the researchers call our “cognitive reserve” as we age.
Learn Over a Lifetime
Another significant help to keeping your brain active is continuing to learn over a lifetime, the project researchers found. Doing so provides a buffer against conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease—even if you fared badly at school when you were younger.
The results show that cognitive ability is subject to what we do over our lifetimes, explains Dr. Dorina Cadar of the Brighton and Sussex Medical School who was co-author of the study. Following a lifestyle that is socially, intellectually, and physically active helps to avert declines in our brain functions and dementia in our later years, she says.
Negative Effects Can Be Offset
A heartening aspect that was found in the study is that continuing to learn during your lifetime not only boosts your brain power, but it might offset the negative effects of a poor education in your childhood.
Such an effect is particularly helpful to those people who might feel that they experienced a childhood that was less than rewarding when it came to learning.
How the Study was Conducted
The study looked at the experiences of 1,184 people who were born in Britain in 1946. They underwent learning tests when they were aged eight and again when they were 69. The researchers also looked at their education levels when they were 26, their participation in enriching leisure activities when they were 43, and their occupations until they were 53.
Their reading ability at 53 also was tested as a measure of general lifelong learning that took place separate from occupation and formal education.
The test undertaken by the participants in the study when they turned 69 had a total maximum score of 100.
Major Study Findings
Among the findings in the study:
• The average score for the group was 92. The lowest score was 53 and the highest was 100.
• Higher cognitive skills during childhood—including a greater cognitive reserve index and higher reading ability—were linked to higher scores on the brain test when the people in the study turned 69.
• People who had earned a bachelor’s or higher degree during their lifetimes scored on average 1.22 points more than those who had no formal education.
• The more leisure activities in which people were involved, the higher was their score on the index.
Those who took part in six or more leisure activities such as clubs, adult education classes, volunteer work, gardening, and social activities scored an average 1.53 points more than those people who were involved in only up to four leisure activities.
• Those in the study who had a job in the intermediate to professional range scored 1.5 points more on average than those whose occupations were unskilled or partly skilled.
• The scores for those who had a higher reading level and a higher brain reserve index did not drop as fast as for those who had lower scores.
This effect was shown no matter what test scores were recorded when they were eight.
Commenting on the findings in the study, Dr. Michal Schnaider Beeri of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York says that from the perspective of society and public health, long-term broad benefits might be gained by investing in higher education.
Benefits also can be gained by providing more opportunities for leisure activities as well as brain-challenging activities for people generally and in particular for those working in occupations that are less skilled, Beeri adds.
The study appears in the journal Neurology.
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