by Joe Hardy, PhD
Exercising your brain at a young age can protect your cognitive abilities as you get older, a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco recently reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Led by Dr. Kristine Yaffe, the researchers followed a group of close to 1000 individuals for nine years, measuring brain function and taking blood samples along the way.
They found that levels of several compounds in the bloodstream – called beta-amyloids – predicted subsequent cognitive decline. These compounds are related to Alzheimer’s Disease, so this relationship is not entirely surprising. The protective effects of brain exercise were more interesting. The researchers found that people with high levels of cognitive reserve – as measured by previous experiences with cognitively stimulating activities like education – were relatively protected against cognitive decline associated with these chemical changes. In other words, if you take two people with the same levels of blood plasma beta-amyloids, the person with more cognitive reserve (built up through prior brain exercise) is likely to have better cognitive fitness down the road.
The message is clear: cognitively stimulating activity is critical for brain health and fitness. The more you exercise your brain now, the better off you’ll be later.