Use it or lose it

I know I talk a lot about the benefits of exercise–especially when it comes to keeping your brain healthy. Still, now seems like a good time to remind you it’s not just physical exercise that makes the difference down the road.

An active mind is just as important. And a new study recently published in the journal Neurology does a fine job of underscoring that fact.

Researchers looked at data from close to 300 older subjects. They were all participants of an earlier cohort study, in which subjects reported their level of mental stimulation. Typical activities included reading, letter-writing, and library visits. (But not internet use, as information was collected more than 20 years ago.)

Over the course of the study, roughly half of the subject developed dementia of some degree or another. But those who were the most mentally active in their older years enjoyed a 32 percent slower rate of cognitive decline than those with average intellectual stimulation. (Even after accounting for factors like gender, education, and physical brain changes, like amyloid plaque buildup.)

And those who were least active? Well, their decline into dementia happened nearly 50 percent faster.

The bottom line here is that mental activity–whether it’s reading a novel or sitting down with some Sudoku–is one of the most effective solutions for dementia we’ve got. And lucky for all of us, it doesn’t cost a thing.

“Life-span cognitive activity, neuropathologic burden, and cognitive aging.” Neurology. 2013 Jul 23;81(4):314-21.