Staying in education or taking on a leadership role at work can help people keep their brains healthy for longer, new research finds.
Doing challenging activities in mid-life, the study found, helps people fight off dementia later on.
Professor Linda Clare said:
“Losing mental ability is not inevitable in later life.
We know that we can all take action to increase our chances of maintaining our own mental health, through healthy living and engaging in stimulating activities.
It’s important that we understand how and why this occurs, so we can give people meaningful and effective measures to take control of living full and active lives into older age.
People who engage in stimulating activity which stretches the brain, challenging it to use different strategies that exercise a variety of networks, have higher ‘Cognitive reserve’.
This builds a buffer in the brain, making it more resilient.
It means signs of decline only become evident at a higher threshold of illness or decay than when this buffer is absent.”
The conclusions come from the study of 2,315 people over 65.
They found the following factors were linked to healthier brain aging:
- Moderate alcohol consumption (meaning not too much alcohol, not that teetotalers need to start drinking!).
- Mentally stimulating activity.
- Physical activity.
- Social activity.
- Healthy diet.
Professor Bob Woods, who co-authored the study, said:
“We found that people with a healthier lifestyle had better scores on tests of mental ability, and this was partly accounted for by their level of cognitive reserve.
Our results highlight the important of policies and measures that encourage older people to make changes in their diet, exercise more, and engage in more socially oriented and mentally stimulating activities.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal PLOS Medicine (Clare et al., 2017).