August 10, 2003
Reading, paying social visits, going to the movies and theater -- participating in these and other leisure activities during the early and middle adult years may keep the brain and memory intact into old age, a new report suggests.
Researchers at the University of South Florida School of Aging Studies examined the Swedish Twins Registry, using data on same-sex twins born between 1886 and 1925. The twins underwent testing and filled out questionnaires from the 1960s through the 1990s.
The researchers looked closer at 107 of the twin pairs, in which one of the two suffered mental decline in old age while the other did not. The twin who participated more actively in leisure activities, like reading and movie-going , during early adulthood and midlife was less likely to suffer from Alzheimer's or another type of dementia in old age, their analysis found.
Men and women were equally protected, the researchers found, although women seemed to benefit more from intellectual cultural activities, like reading or going to the theater. The investigators speculate that this may be because the men of this generation had more opportunities to engage in intellectual activities through their jobs.
Physical activities like playing sports, gardening and other outdoor activities were also included on the list of things that appeared to boost mental fitness. Other research has suggested that physical activity, which has numerous benefits for heart health, may keep the blood vessels working well in the brain as well and help to blunt mental damage from Alzheimer's.
The results support earlier findings on the "use it or lose it' theory that staying mentally and physically alert and engaged in your younger years helps keep the mind sharp. The current study appeared in the October issue of the Journal of Gerontology : Psychological Sciences.
By Toby Bilanow, Medical Writer, for www.ALZinfo.org. The Alzheimer's Information Site.
Reviewed by Samuel E. Gandy, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board, Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation.