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Lifelong learning may turn clock back on your aging brain

Washington: You may want to stimulate your brain in early life as a recent study has found that it may help stay mentally healthy in older age.

According to the University of Exeter research, stimulating the brain by taking on leadership roles at work or staying on in education help people stay mentally healthy in later life.

The large-scale investigation used data from more than 2,000 mentally fit people over the age of 65, examined the theory that experiences in early or mid life which challenge the brain make people more resilient to changes resulting from age or illness – they have higher “cognitive reserve.”

The analysis, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) found that people with higher levels of reserve are more likely to stay mentally fit for longer, making the brain more resilient to illnesses such as dementia.

The research team included collaborators from the universities of Bangor, Newcastle and Cambridge.

Researcher 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,” Clare added.

The research team analysed data from 2,315 mentally fit participants aged over 65 years who took part in the first wave of interviews for the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study Wales (CFAS-Wales).

They analysed whether a healthy lifestyle was associated with better performance on a mental ability test. They found that a healthy diet, more physical activity, more social and mentally stimulating activity and moderate alcohol consumption all seemed to boost cognitive performance.

Bob Woods of Bangor University 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,” Woods added.

The study is published in the journal PLOS Medicine. (ANI)