We all want to keep our brain and memory intact as we get older, and a research report published July 3 in the journal Neurology gives us some hints.
Researchers from Rush University Medical Center (Chicago, USA) performed post-mortem microscopic study on the brains of 294 elderly individuals, each of who had their memory and brain functioning measured once per year before their death, for an average of six years. During the six year period, participants were asked details about how had used their brains during their lifetime.
They found that the more mental stimulation the person received throughout life, the slower was their mental decline. People who frequently stimulated their brains as they got older had a 32% slower rate of mental decline than people who stimulated their brains an average amount.
And people who were relatively mentally inactive as they got older, performing fewer mentally stimulating activities, suffered mental decline at a rate 48% faster than those who experienced an average amount of stimulation.
Neuroscientists believe mentally stimulating activities build up a “cognitive reserve”, meaning years of stimulating brain activity builds a relative excess of brain cells and brain connections, so when these people age, they have an extra reserve or “savings account” of brain tissue that they can afford to lose without showing any mental decline.
The best way to stimulate your brain is to do what elite athletes and trainers often do to stimulate muscle growth and maximize physical fitness—confuse the muscles! That is, they mix up various types of exercises, challenging muscles in different ways, with variable exercise durations. This often brings better physical results, and it seems your brain can be best strengthened in that way too.
Activities like crossword puzzles, and reading books are good, but even better is to mix up your mental challenges in variable, but simple ways. Here are some examples:
1) Work on your mental weaknesses. For example if you are good with number games, find something you are not so good at, like reading a novel. But don’t make it painful; read reviews of various books to find one you will probably like.
Mix up the type of books you read, the films that you see, and frequently seek out new music.
2) Dance. If you haven’t been out dancing recently, do it. Dancing is one of the best ways to stimulate your brain.
3) Vary your route. Occasionally drive or walk by a different route to your destination, and if you jog or walk your dog, take different routes or walk in the opposite direction to mix up your brain a bit.
4) Use your non-dominant hand sometimes. Try your other hand to shave, pick up objects, or push the elevator button. Hold your fork and knife in your opposite hands. If you normally use one finger to type on your cell phone, use the other hand or both hands occasionally. Seems simple but a lot of these little changes shakes up and challenges your brain.
5) Take a trip, the more different from your usual environment the better.
6) Learn another language (bilingual people suffer less dementia), learn to play an instrument, or take a course. Many top international universities now offer online education for free. Apple has a free online program called ITunesU.
See also in ProcuraMed:
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