Study Finds 4 Things That Keep Old Minds Sharp

Some people seem to be able to keep their wits well into old age. But what's their secret?

New research reveals a host of factors that may contribute to a sharper mind late in life, including exercise, education, non-smoking behavior and social activity.

While other research has shown that genetics play a role in whether people get dementia, the study adds to a growing body of research that is uncovering ways you can up the odds of keeping your brain healthy and your memory sharp now and later. The study tested the cognitive ability of 2,500 people aged 70 to 79 over eight years. More than half of the subjects showed normal age-related decline in mind function and 16 percent had a considerable decline during the course of the study. But 30 percent of participants did not show a change in their cognitive skills, and some even improved on the tests. The researchers then looked to see what could account for this difference. EXERCISE: They found that people who exercised moderately to vigorously at least once a week were 30 percent more likely to maintain a sharp mind than those who did not work-out as often. EDUCATION: People with at least a high school education were almost three times more likely to keep up their cognitive ability than those without this education. And those who had a ninth grade literacy level were nearly five times more likely to maintain the ability (a specific word recognition test was administered during the study to assess the subject's literacy level.) NOT SMOKING: There was also a connection between smoking and brain function in old age. Non-smokers were almost twice as likely to stay quick-minded as those who smoked. SOCIALIZING: Finally, some social activity may also be good for the mind. The results showed that subjects who volunteered, worked or lived with someone else were 24 percent more likely to keep up their cognitive function. "Some of these factors such as exercise and smoking are behaviors that people can change," said Alexandra Fiocco, a study author and research at the University of California, San Francisco. "Discovering factors associated with cognitive maintenance may be very useful in prevention strategies that guard against or slow the onset of dementia." The results were published in a June issue of Neurology. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The study supports past research that has pointed to exercise as a way to protect your brain and prevent the development of cognitive disorders. Exercise stresses your body, and causes it to release certain growth factors that can strength neurons and keep them healthy.

Live Science Staff
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