Several large studies have found a less risk for developing Alzheimerâ€™s disease in intellectually actively people compared with their mentally inactive peers. And the mental activity can take many forms, such as reading, working jigsaw puzzles, woodworking, printing, knitting and playing board games. Some studies have even found that people with mentally demanding jobs, professionals, managers, etc experience less memory decline as they age when compared with their counterparts who have less demanding jobs.
In a study with 500 elderly, they were asked how often they participated in leisure activities like dancing, playing chess, card games or doing crossword puzzles. Over the years, the scientists kept records of those who developed mild memory loss or full-blown dementia. They found that the people who were the most active mentally had a 63 percent lower risk of getting dementia compared with those who rarely played board games, read, or did similar activities. The people who played the most had the most protection, doing crossword puzzles four days each week translated into 47 percent lower risk of dementia compared with once a week puzzle solvers. For each day of the week that people exercised their minds, the researchers found nearly a 10 percent reduction in the risk for dementia.
Other studies indicate that mental activity earlier in life is beneficial as well. The rate for developing Alzheimerâ€™s disease was three times lower in people who had been intellectually active during their forties and fifties compared with those who had not. Even mental activity as early as oneâ€™s twenties will mean better cognitive function late in life. This means that college graduates have a lower risk for developing Alzheimerâ€™s disease than those who never get beyond a high school education.
Experts believe that one reason solving puzzles and other forms of mental stimulation help lower the risk for dementia is that people develop a â€œcognitive reserveâ€ that allows them to tolerate more damage from Alzheimerâ€™s and other brain diseases. A recent study suggests that itâ€™s not how much brain you have, but how you use it that makes the difference. The investigators tested 19 people with a range of IQs from below to above average. Participants performed memory tasks while the investigators measured their brain activity patterns during functional MRI scans.
The scans showed more activity in the frontal lobes of people with higher intelligence. These same investigators also have demonstrated the brain-protective effects of education. These findings show that more intelligent and better educated people use their brains differently than those without these benefits, and this may help explain why keeping the mind active helps protect against the onset of Alzheimerâ€™s disease.
Mental calisthenics may not only keep our brain ells healthy, but they may also help them grow. New research suggests that the brain can actually rewire itself and grow new cells, a process known as neurogenesis, believed impossible until the last few decades. Research by the Princeton University has shown that laboratory animals continue to produce new brain cells in the hippocampus, that sea horse shaped formation beneath the temple. Studies have shown that such neurogenesis can occur in humans as well. Neurogenesis may be an important aspect of memory and learning. In animal studies, they have found that enriched environments are associated with greater numbers of synapses or cell communication links in the brains memory centers. And, when running through their mazes and completing other memory tests, the stimulated animals appear more intelligent. These kinds of studies have led many researchers to believe that routine mental exercise stimulates existing connections between neurons and leads to new neuronal connections in the brain. This in turn will improve memory and brain performance.
Even in the face of this and other compelling evidence for the protective benefits of mental exercise, memory training and memorization techniques, there are still skeptics who believe that mental activity has little or no effect on the rate at which our brains age. However, even without absolute proof of cause and effect, the risks of staying mentally active are minimal, and the potential gains great. In the words, remaining mentally active and practicing mental exercises canâ€™t hurt. It can also enrich our lives.
Studies on mental exercises have shown that the tasks must involve an element of effort. They can be diverse and can include any of a number of activities reading, working jigsaw puzzles, woodworking, painting, knitting, or playing board games. You may prefer learning a language or reading a challenging novel or biography or learning a memorization technique as memory training Evidence indicates that the â€œfun factorâ€ keeps us coming back for more, and that is what you want â€” to sustain the activity over time. Epidemiological studies suggest that we need to develop a regular habit of mental calisthenics, and that years of activity may be needed to obtain optimum effect.
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