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Late-stage surges in mental activity can make up lost ground; and exercise is again shown to be the best thing for the brain, overall.
A new study and a new book reinforce two important points about strengthening mental fitness and reducing the risk of dementia as we age.
In a soon-to-be-released study from Michael Valenzuela, a neuroscientist from the University of NSW and his colleague Parminder Sachdev, the authors have integrated data from 22 separate studies about possible links between behaviour and brain condition. It shows that it’s very possible to improve your chances of avoiding or reducing the effects of diseases of aging by engaging in a late burst of effort, using various tools and activities, such as learning a new language, playing sudoku or bridge or the increasing number of specially designed computer games, and engaging in other brain-extending activities.
Specifically how mental exercise helps the brain is still not clear, but research on mice has shown that the production of new brain cells and the density of new blood cells are increased in a highly stimulating environment. Valenzuela was also part of a project which found that after five weeks of two groups of elderly Sydney residents, the group that had been given memory training exercises showed biochemical changes that were the opposite of what occurs when Alzheimer’s takes hold. The idea that a brain which hasn’t been ideally exercised for many years can be brought to a stronger level in some way seems to be supported.
Meanwhile, a soon-to-released book by Sandra Aamodt, editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience magazine, and Sam Wang, an associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton University, confirms that while challenging mental activities (such as those mentioned above) maintain and develop mental facilities in the areas to which they specifically relate - even as we age – nothing compares with the all-round and overall improvement brought by physical exercise.
Exercise improves “executive function”, the set of abilities that enables us to choose responses to a given set of circumstances, and which involve a composite or complex set of responses, concentration, and control over our behaviour. Executive function typically starts to decline when we reach our 70’s, yet groups of people in their 70’s showed a capacity to improve executive function after intensive exercise programs, such as fast walking several times a week for periods of between 30 and 60 minutes.
Exercise is of course also associated with a major reduction in risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Even who start exercising in their 60’s reduce their risk by half.
Courtesy of www.fitnessandleisure.co.nz