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Inspired living

How to keep your ageing mind youthful


Senior couple riding bicycles together

Credit: 123RF

There is no lack of research showing that challenging activities help maintain your mental function as you age. Now, however, a new study has shown what sort of activities keep your brain young and how they do it.

The results showed that the high challenge group showed better memory performance after 14 weeks than the other two groups.

The study involved older adults who all underwent a range of mental-function tests and also MRI scans to show brain activity. The subjects were randomly assigned to be in either a high challenge, low challenge or placebo group and spent 15 hours per week for 14 weeks engaging in the corresponding tasks. The high challenge group undertook learning digital photography or quilting (or a combination of both), the low challenge group socialised and engaged in activities related to cooking and Travel with no learning involved, while the placebo group engaged in low cognitive demand activities like listening to music or watching movies.

After 14 weeks, all subjects were re-tested and a subset of subjects were also re-tested a year later.

The results showed that the high challenge group showed better memory performance after 14 weeks than the other two groups. The MRI scans revealed that learning photography and quilting led to altered activity in the medial frontal, lateral temporal and parietal cortex brain regions. These are all brain areas associated with the processing meaning and attention. In the people who had been learning high challenge tasks, these parts of the brain showed increased neural efficiency in that they showed lowered activity when given easy tasks and heightened activity when given difficult tasks. This is the pattern that is seen in youthful brains whereas in both other groups in this study brain activity stayed high regardless of the difficulty of the task. This is an inefficient use of neural energy and is evidence that highly challenging tasks really do help the brain to function as if it is young.

We all get older; how you get older is up to you.



 

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.