You’ve probably heard about the importance of keeping your brain busy to stave off signs of cognitive decline as you age. But just how much can doing all of these different activities actually help your mind? Good news: Recent research found that adding a few small hobbies to your day could delay Alzheimer’s up to several years.
In a new study published in the July 2021 issue of Neurology, scientists took a closer look at not just if brain-stimulating activities could delay cognitively degenerative diseases, but by how much. Their seven-year experiment tracked the developments of 1,978 participants with an average age of 80 who didn’t have dementia or signs of mental decline at the start of the trial. For each subject, they regularly tracked how often they did seven key cognitive activities: General reading, going to a library regularly, reading newspapers, reading books, writing letters, reading magazines, and playing games like puzzles, cards, and board games, They also studied the brains of anyone who passed away during the experiment to see if there were any signs of decay.
Over time, researchers discovered that participants who eventually developed Alzheimer’s but were cognitively stimulated in the years prior to their diagnosis didn’t see any symptoms for five years more than those who didn’t partake in any of these hobbies. In other words, these activities — like reading, playing games, and writing letters — delayed the onset of the disease by half a decade. “Our study shows that people who engage in more cognitively stimulating activities may be delaying the age at which they develop dementia,” explained study author Robert S. Wilson, PhD, who’s part of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “Our research suggests that the link between cognitive activity and the age at which a person developed dementia is mainly driven by the activities you do later in life.”
Why such a big difference? Scientists believe that these activities strengthen neural connections and prevent the buildup of harmful amyloid and tau protein deposits, which damage your neurons and make it harder for your brain to fire off different signals and messages.
More importantly, this research focused on cognitive activity later in life, which means that even if you haven’t spent your life reading or writing a lot, getting started by finally opening that book you bought months ago or writing a note to a friend can still help your brain health when it comes to finding ways to delay Alzheimer’s.