Exercise and socializing help boost memory function in older people

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A recent study by the University of Zurich has brought to light an intriguing aspect of aging: staying physically and socially active in old age helps protect a crucial part of the brain linked to memory.

This area, known as the entorhinal cortex, is crucial for learning and memory and is notably affected in Alzheimer’s disease, even in its early stages.

Regular physical exercise is well-known for its various health benefits, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and obesity.

But the University’s research, spearheaded by Lutz Jäncke, a professor emeritus, and co-lead Susan Mérillat, delves into how different leisure activities – physical, social, and cognitive – impact brain health in older adults.

Their research, part of a comprehensive 12-year-long study on brain development and behavior in old age, focused on people over 65.

They looked at how the entorhinal cortex, a thin (about 3.5 millimeters) but vital part of the brain located in the inner part of the temporal lobe, interacts with memory performance and various activities over seven years.

Jäncke’s team discovered that individuals who were more physically and socially active at the start of the study experienced less thinning of the entorhinal cortex over seven years.

This finding is crucial because the thickness of the entorhinal cortex is closely related to memory performance. Essentially, the less this part of the brain shrinks, the better the memory performance remains.

Jäncke emphasizes that an active lifestyle, encompassing both physical exercise and social engagement with friends and family, is key to maintaining brain health and preventing neurodegeneration in later life.

Moreover, they observed that participants with higher memory performance at the study’s beginning were likely to maintain their memory abilities better over time.

These results reinforce the concept of a ‘cognitive reserve’ – the idea that the brain can be continually strengthened throughout life to offset age-related decline.

Isabel Hotz and Pascal Deschwanden, the first authors of the study, suggest that being active in all aspects of life, including physical, mental, and social domains, is beneficial, especially as we age.

In summary, the study underlines the importance of an active lifestyle in old age, not just for physical health, but crucially for protecting key brain areas involved in memory, thereby contributing to a better quality of life in our later years.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and blueberry supplements may prevent cognitive decline.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and Coconut oil could help improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s.

The research findings can be found in Neuroimage.

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