Studies have demonstrated that engaging in both physical and mental activities can prevent dementia and maintain cognitive function. According to a recent study, these advantages can differ for men and women. The research is published online in Neurology®, the official medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, on July 20, 2022.

The study examined the impact of physical and mental activities on cognitive reserve in the domains of thinking speed and memory, such as reading, attending classes, playing cards, or playing games. Cognitive reserve is the protective mechanism that keeps people’s mental faculties sharp even when their brains exhibit the underlying abnormalities linked to dementia and cognitive impairment.

We found that greater physical activity was associated with greater thinking speed reserve in women, but not in men. Taking part in more mental activities was associated with greater thinking speed reserve for both men and women.”

Judy Pa, PhD, study author, University of California, San Diego

Neither eating physical exercise nor having a strong memory were linked. The study’s 758 participants had an age range of 76. Some individuals had dementia while others had dementia with modest cognitive impairment. Along with taking memory and thinking-speed tests, the subjects had brain scans.

The overall volume of the hippocampus, a significant brain area affected by Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other alterations in the brain linked to dementia were compared to people’s performance on thinking tests to determine cognitive reserve.

A question concerning people’s typical weekly physical activity was also asked of them. They were questioned on their participation in three different sorts of mental activity over the previous 13 months, including reading periodicals, newspapers, or books; attending classes; and card games, games, or bingo. For a total of three points, they might receive one credit for each category of action.

Participants scored 1.4 points on average for mental activity. Participants engaged in vigorous physical exercises, such as fast walking and riding, for at least 15 minutes every week on average.

“Preventive care is essential because there are debatably few to no viable therapies for Alzheimer’s disease. It is stated that prevention is better than cure: “says Pa. It’s quite thrilling to see that people may perhaps increase their cognitive reserve by making small changes like attending community center programs, playing bingo with friends, or spending a lot of time walking or gardening.

According to Pa, a doubling of physical activity would be comparable to an estimated 2.75 fewer years of aging when it comes to women’s processing speed and reasoning skills, based on the impact sizes shown in the study.

Researchers also investigated if the APOE e4 gene, which has the highest risk for Alzheimer’s disease, had an impact on the connection between mental and physical exercise and cognitive reserve. They discovered that carrying the gene in women decreases the benefits of the connection between mental and physical exercise and cognitive reserve.

The study did not establish a link between increased cognitive reserve and physical or mental exercise. Only an association is displayed.

People reporting their own physical and mental activities presented a research constraint since their memories could not have been accurate. Additionally, the study did not examine structural or cultural variables like schooling that have an impact on cognitive reserve.

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