THURSDAY, Aug. 4, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Socializing, classes and exercise can boost your brain’s cognitive reserve and ward off memory and thinking problems on the road, a new study suggests.
Cognitive reserve refers to the brain’s ability to withstand the effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s and not show signs of deterioration.
The Best Way to Boost Your Cognitive Reserve?
“Never stop being curious and learn something new or take up a new hobby,” said study author Pamela Almeida-Meza, a PhD student at University College London. “Stay active and connected, exercise, walk daily, stay in touch with family and visit your friends instead.”
For the study, researchers looked at the genes and lifestyle factors of 1,184 people born in the UK in 1946. People took cognitive tests when they were 8 and again at 69.
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All participants in the study received a cognitive reserve score that combined their educational attainment at age 26, participation in enriching leisure activities at age 43, and a job up to age 53. Reading ability at age 53 was tested as an additional measure of overall lifelong learning.
The cognitive test that people took at age 69 had a maximum total score of 100, and the average score for this group was 92.
People with higher childhood cognitive abilities, higher cognitive reserve and advanced reading skills performed better on the cognitive test at age 69, the study showed.
Those with a higher level of education also performed better than their peers with no formal education.
Individuals who engaged in six or more recreational activities, such as Activities such as adult education, clubs, volunteering, social activities and gardening performed better than people who engaged in four or fewer leisure activities.
Additionally, at age 29, those participants who held professional or middle-level jobs performed better on the cognitive test than those in less-skilled positions.
Previous studies have shown that people with low scores on cognitive tests as children are more likely to have steeper cognitive decline with age, but this may not be the case.
“The finding suggests that a mentally, socially, and physically active lifestyle in midlife can offset the negative contribution of low childhood cognition to cognitive status in older age,” said Almeida-Meza.
The APOE4 gene, which increases risk of Alzheimer’s disease, was associated with lower scores on the cognitive test at age 69, but participants with high or low childhood cognition scores showed similar rates of cognition regardless of their APOE4 status decay with age.
The study appears in the August 3 issue neurology.
The results show that genes are not fate when it comes to risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, said Lei Yu, associate professor at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago.
“Cognitive performance in old age is not entirely determined by what is inherited from our parents,” said Yu, who reviewed the new study.
“Older adults who are actively engaged in cognitive activities [e.g., reading, or playing checkers, cards, puzzles or board games]Social [e.g., spending time with family members or friends, going to church, volunteering or participating in group activities] and physical activities [e.g., regular exercise] are more able to maintain cognition late in life, even in the presence of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s,” he said.
Michal Schnaider Beeri is Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. She co-authored an editorial that accompanied the study.
“The study results support the relevance of a lifelong investment in the accumulation of cognitive reserves to maintaining healthy cognition later in life,” she said.
“From a public health and societal perspective, there can be far-reaching long-term benefits from investing in higher education, expanding opportunities for leisure activities, and proactively providing cognitively challenging activities for those in lower-skilled occupations,” said Schnaider Beeri.
And, she said, it’s never too late to start boosting your cognitive reserve.
“Although younger brains learn faster and more effectively, older and even [much] older brains have plasticity and the ability to learn,” Schnaider Beeri noted.
She recommended getting out of your comfort zone and learning a new language, skill, or musical instrument.
“Feeding our brains with intellectual engagement and effort should be viewed as a lifelong process to maintain healthy brain aging,” Schnaider Beeri said.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers more tips on how to ward off Alzheimer’s disease.
SOURCES: Pamela Almeida-Meza, PhD Student, University College London, Lei Yu, PhD, Associate Professor, Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Chicago; Michal Schnaider Beeri, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, neurologyAugust 3, 2022