Reading a book, writing, playing games are good for keeping a sharp brain. Several past studies have shown that engaging in mentally stimulating activities throughout life helps postpone the emergence of cognitive decline and dementia. The latest study on the topic goes further and shows that lifelong brain-stimulating habits lower the amount of the protein that forms brain plaques, the hallmark of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The study aimed at assessing the association between 2 types of lifestyle practices (cognitive and physical activities) and the accumulation of beta-amyloid protein in the brain. This protein is the one that forms the plaques that prevent brain cells from working properly in Alzheimer’s Disease. One can measure how much of the protein is present in the brain by using a special kind of brain imagining scanner.
Participants in the study were 65 healthy adults (mean age: 76 years old), 10 adults with Alzheimer’s disease (mean age, 75 years), and 11 younger control subjects (mean age: 24). They were all interviewed about how often they engaged in mentally challenging activities and in physical activity.
The cognitively demanding activities that were focused on were activities that depended minimally on socioeconomic status: reading (books or newspapers), writing (letters or emails), going to the library and playing games. How often participants engaged in these activities was assessed at 5 age periods: 6, 12, 18, 40 years and at the current age.
The level of physical activity was assessed by asking participants how often they engaged in physical and leisure activities such as cycling, walking, dancing, and yoga during a recent 2-week period.
The main result of the study was that greater participation in mentally stimulating activities (reading, writing and playing games), especially in early and middle life, was associated with lower accumulation of beta-amyloid in the brain.
Older participants who engaged the most in stimulating activities show levels of protein accumulation similar to those present in the brain of the young participants. In contrast, older participants who engaged the least in stimulating activities show levels of protein accumulation similar to those present in the brain of the patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Physical exercise was not associated with the level of beta-amyloid protein in the brain. This was surprising given the well-known beneficial effects of physical exercise on the brain and cognitive functions. The authors suggest that the way they assessed physical activity (only over 2 recent weeks) was maybe not the best estimate.
Engaging in stimulating activities is great for brain health and is associated with lower levels of the protein that forms brain plaques in Alzheimer’s Disease. Such lower accumulation may mean lower risks of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
In addition, the earlier one start engaging in brain-stimulating activities, the better. This shows that brain health and maintenance has a lot to do with lifelong lifestyle habits. Simple, fun and engaging activities can have a huge impact on how our brain develops and ages. Seems worth the effort!
Landau, S. M. et al. (2012). Association of Lifetime Cognitive Engagement and Low Beta-Amyloid Deposition. Arch Neurol. Published online January 23, 2012. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2011.2748