“There is overwhelming evidence that exercise produces large cognitive gains and helps fight dementia”, says the Harvard University psychologist John Ratey, author of the 2008 book on the subject, Spark.
While Ratey propounds the “very clear” link between exercise and mental acuity, saying that even moderate exercise pushes back cognitive decline by “anywhere from 10 to 15 years”, the National Institutes of Health are more cautious:
Looking at reducing the risk of “cognitive decline in older adults,” [the NIH] wrote: “Preliminary evidence suggests a beneficial association of physical activity and a range of leisure activities (e.g., club membership, religious services, painting, gardening) with the preservation of cognitive function.” A few small studies showed that “increased physical activity may help maintain or improve cognitive function in normal adults”.
I’ve written before about the extensive cognitive benefits of exercise, but as Noah Gray (via) says, “it never hurts to reinforce the message”.
I’ve noted previously how child bilingualism improves the “executive functions” and aÂ recent study has corroborated these findings while also discoveringÂ how bilingualism can stave off dementia in old age:
[Psychologist Ellen Bailystok] wanted to explore whether enhanced executive control actually has a protective effect in mental agingâ€”specifically, whether bilingualism contributes to the “cognitive reserve” that comes from stimulating social, mental and physical activity. She studied a large group of men and women with dementia, and compared the onset of their first symptoms. The age of onset for dementia was a full four years later in bilinguals than in patients who had lived their lives speaking just one language. That’s a whopping difference. Delaying dementia four years is more than any known drug can do, and could represent a huge savings in health care costs.
Is there any downside to bilingualism? Yes. [â€¦] Bialystok’s studies also found that bilinguals have less linguistic proficiency in either of their two languages than do those who only speak that language. They have somewhat smaller vocabularies, for example, and aren’t as rapid at retrieving word meanings. But compared to the dramatic cognitive advantages of learning a second language, that seems a small price to pay.
A longitudinal study of health and mental lucidity in the agedâ€”focusing on the huge retirement community of Laguna Woods Village south of Los Angelesâ€”is starting to show some results.
From studying members of the so-called ‘super memory club’ (people aged 90+ with near-perfect cognitive abilities) it is being suggested that not all mental activities are equal when it comes to staving off dementia, and social intereactions may be vastly more important that previously thought.
The researchers have also demonstrated that the percentage of people with dementia after 90 does not plateau or taper off, as some experts had suspected. It continues to increase, so that for the one in 600 people who make it to 95, nearly 40 percent of the men and 60 percent of the women qualify for a diagnosis of dementia.
So far, scientists here have found little evidence that diet or exercise affects the risk of dementia in people over 90. But some researchers argue that mental engagement â€” doing crossword puzzles, reading books â€” may delay the arrival of symptoms. And social connections, including interaction with friends, may be very important, some suspect. In isolation, a healthy human mind can go blank and quickly become disoriented.
via Mind Hacks
The ‘Nun Study’ is a longitudinal study of ageing and Alzheimer’sÂ that uses data gathered from over 600 nuns over the past 20+ years. Some interesting correlates are starting to appear:
The nuns make for a very unique population to study [â€¦] because of their similar lifestyles.
“They don’t smoke, they don’t drink, so you can reduce the effects of some of these other environmental factors, and focus in on other factors that might be harder to get your hands around in other population studies.” [â€¦]
Among the study’s findings are a relationship between early childhood education and reducing the susceptibility to Alzheimerâ€™s disease, [and] a relationship between traumas to the brain, such as strokes, and an increased susceptibility to Alzheimer’s. [â€¦]
Another interesting finding has been that some of the nuns brains look like they have Alzheimer’s but the women weren’t exhibiting symptoms before they died.
“If that’s the case, there may be things you can do, even though you have the disease to slow down or prevent the expression of the disease symptoms”.
Reading this article, I’m not sure what I enjoyed the most: learning about this fascinating study, or the picture of the neuropathologist standing in front of over 600 plastic containers each holding a nun’s brain!
For more information on this study, TimeÂ wrote a comprehensive article back in 2001, and there’s a dedicated section on the University of Minnesota’s site.