New research offers hopeful news for anyone looking to keep their mind sharp as they age.
A study focusing on brain health and lifestyle has found that living healthily may help fend off dementia by building a resilient ‘cognitive reserve’ in the aging brain.
This intriguing study was conducted by analyzing the brains of 586 individuals post-mortem, who had an average lifespan of nearly 91 years.
The research team, led by Dr. Klodian Dhana from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, looked into how each person’s lifestyle choices—such as diet, exercise, and abstaining from smoking and excessive drinking—related to their mental abilities towards the end of their lives, alongside the neurological markers of dementia found during autopsies.
Surprisingly, the physical signs of dementia within the brain, like protein plaques or alterations in brain blood flow, didn’t seem to have a significant impact on the positive link between a healthy lifestyle and mental acuity at life’s end.
This suggests that healthy habits might build a ‘cognitive reserve,’ a kind of buffer that protects brain function despite the presence of dementia-related changes in the brain.
Essentially, this means that by living healthily, individuals might be able to outsmart the biological markers of dementia, maintaining their cognitive abilities for longer.
Dr. Liron Sinvani, a geriatric specialist not involved in the study, highlighted the potential of healthy living to delay the onset of dementia symptoms, emphasizing the importance of good nutrition, regular physical activity, and avoiding harmful habits like smoking and heavy drinking.
The findings of this study were shared in the journal JAMA Neurology and contribute to a growing body of evidence that supports the link between lifestyle choices and reduced dementia rates.
The researchers drew on data from the Rush Memory and Aging Project, which tracked the lifestyle and mental function of participants over 24 years.
Despite the presence of typical dementia-related changes in their brains, those who led healthier lives consistently showed better mental function at the end of their lives.
Interestingly, the study found that the lifestyle-mental function relationship was largely independent of the brain changes typically associated with dementia, with only a minor portion potentially explained by a decrease in amyloid plaques, a common marker of the disease.
This new research reinforces the idea that a healthy lifestyle can offer a protective reserve for the brain, allowing individuals to maintain cognitive function even as dementia-related changes occur.
It suggests that, with the same level of brain changes, the person who leads a healthier life can achieve better cognitive functioning.
For those looking to adopt a healthier lifestyle, it’s never too late or too early to start. Engaging in physical activity, even for those who are older or have been inactive, can bring significant benefits.
With at least 150 minutes of exercise recommended per week, starting slow and consulting with healthcare professionals can help ensure safety and effectiveness in improving lifestyle habits.
This study not only highlights the power of healthy living in protecting against dementia but also offers encouragement and a clear path forward for individuals at any age to enhance their cognitive reserve and enjoy a sharper mind in their later years.
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The research findings can be found in JAMA Neurology.
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