Do you need the latest brain fitness app on your i-phone to keep your brain active? Not necessarily: Simple mental activities such as reading and writing seem powerful enough to preserve brain health. A new study shows that the frequency of such activities in late life can affect the brain’s white matter.
Several previous studies have shown that frequent participation in mentally challenging activities in mid and late life is associated with better mental functioning and lower rates of dementia.
This new study looked more directly at the effect of late-life cognitive activity on white matter in the brain. White matter is made of the brain cells’ axons, the fibers that conduct information throughout the brain (by opposition to gray matter, made of the heads of these cells, and located in the cortex, the outer layer of the brain).
The study involved 152 individuals, age 81 on average, who were all without dementia or mild cognitive impairment. They rated on a scale of one to five the frequency with which they participated in a list of mentally engaging activities during the last year. Among the activities were reading newspapers and magazines, writing letters, playing cards and board games, visiting the library, attending a play.
Dr. Arfanakis and his colleagues used brain scans to look at the microstructural integrity of the white matter in the participants’ brains. They found that people with a high frequency of cognitive activity showed a higher white matter microstructural integrity than people with lower frequency of cognitive activity.
In other words, there was an association between frequent mental activities and the structural integrity of the white matter in several areas of in the brain. Since this integrity naturally declines with age, the findings suggest that cognitive activity in late life may maintain the condition of the brain wiring and thus may help protect brain functions.
Want to get started on challenging your brain? How about trying these brain games?