Tags: brain | study | mental

Brain Study: 'Use it or Lose it'

Tuesday, 01 May 2012 12:45 PM

The brain isn’t a muscle, but a new Australian study finds exercising your mind – just as you do your body – can help fend off dementia and age-related declines in mental skills.
The study, conducted by the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney, suggests remaining mentally sharp has less to do with the intellectual gifts afforded by the brain you’re born with and more to do with maintaining “an active cognitive lifestyle” – staying more mentally active – as you get older.
"The ideas of a 'brain reserve' or 'cognitive reserve' have been suggested to explain this, but were basically a black box,” said lead researcher Michael J. Valenzuela. “This research throws some light on what may be happening at the biological level."
For the study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, Valenzuela and colleagues examined the underlying biological changes that lead to a drop in mental abilities as people age. Researchers examined the brains of more than 13,000 elderly individuals who had been monitored since 1991.
Nearly 330 study participants’ brains that had been donated were analyzed and compared, based on the individuals’ dementia status at death (yes or no) and “cognitive lifestyle score” (low, middle, or high).
Researchers’ analysis showed individuals who were more mentally active were less likely to have diseases that affect the brain's blood vessels, greater brain weight and greater nerve density – all associated with stronger mental skills.
"These findings suggest that increased engagement in stimulating activities are part of a lifestyle that is, overall, more healthy," said Dr. John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry.
Valenzuela added: "Overall, our research suggests that multiple complex brain changes may be responsible for the 'use it or lose it' effect."

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Mental exercises can help fend off dementia and other age-related brain disorders, a new study finds.
Tuesday, 01 May 2012 12:45 PM
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