“Use it or lose it”: be curious and active to keep dementia at bay, say scientists

anima dementia active lifestyle

Neuroscientists recommend a socially and physically active lifestyle to delay the onset of dementia. (pic: istockphoto.com/jupiter55)

Be socially active, be curious about life and other people, and keep your body fit if you want to delay the onset of dementia. That’s the advice from neuro-scientists who’ve studied what keeps the mind and memory functioning and alive.

A study shows that exposure to new activities, and seeking out rich and stimulating environments, can delay the formation of a particular protein in the brain that stops the cells communicating with each other, and can erode the person’s ability to learn, remember and pay attention. Scientists from the Center for Neurologic Diseases in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Department of Neurology say that “prolonged exposure to a richer, more novel environment, even in middle age” can protect the hippocampus, the part of the brain susceptible to the effects of that protein – thus helping to preserve short- and long-term memory.

This piece of research says social and stimulating activity is more effective than aerobic exercise. However, a separate study from King’s College London says there is link between lifelong exercise and cognitive wellbeing.

The researchers interviewed 9,000 people over the years as they grew from age 11 to age 50. The study found that people who exercised every week performed better when tested on memory, learning, attention and reasoning at the age of 50 than people who exercised a couple of times a month or less. Fit men lost a third less of their brainpower, while fit women lost 25% less of their brainpower.

Report author Dr Alex Dregan says that while 150 minutes’ exercise per week is recommended, some activity rather than no exercise at all could benefit cognitive wellbeing, adding: “It’s widely acknowledged that a healthy body equals a healthy mind.”

While individuals can do their bit to stay healthy, experts are calling for more funding for research into causes and cures for dementia. The statistics about dementia are stark. One in three people over the age of 65 is likely to get Alzheimer’s, which is now the 10th leading cause of death in the UK, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.

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