Thursday, April 26, 2012

When it comes to the brain, it is 'use it or lose it'

Scientists have found biological proof for the common belief that it is beneficial to 'use' your brain, as doing so will increase your cognitive capabilities. As it turns out, having a 'cognitive lifestyle', which basically is doing a lot of thinking, preserves your brain. Even though it does not protect you against various brain diseases, thinking helps to keep your brain cells functioning for longer. Studies led by the University of Sydney revealed what happens in the brains of people that frequently utilize their cognitive capabilities.

As the brain ages, neurons die off and its function slowly deteriorates. This process cannot be stopped, but it is possible to slow it down. To find out what slows brain decline, scientists tracked 13.000 elderly individuals from 1991 and looked at the brains of those who died and gave their body to science. What they found is a correlation between something that is called a 'cognitive lifestyle score' and the state of the brain. It means they scored people based on how actively they used their brains.

Neural density
The statistics point out that both men and women with a high score on cognitive lifestyle have a higher neuron density, especially in the front lobe. Because this brain part plays a large role in the cognitive functions of the brain, it is easy to see why a bunch of extra cells could be of help there. Diseases associated with faulty blood vessels in the brain were found to be decreased in men with a high cognitive score, while women showed higher average brain weight. No other diseases were affected by brain use.
According to the scientists, their results show an active lifestyle, brain-wise, aids in keeping you healthy. Using your brain could decrease the chance of developing dementia, a general term for having bad memory function, even though they did not find a decrease in well-known diseases such as Alzheimer's, which are known to affect memory. It seems that a greater cellular density helps to prevent age-related decline and loss of brain cells, which is especially important for memory, that relies on ever-renewing connections between neurons. Cognitive stimulation also seems to promote blood flow through the brain. That means, when it comes to brain health, it is 'use it or lose it', although it is not clear how significant the effect of a cognitive lifestyle is. Nevertheless, the ageing population causes the incidence of dementia to go up, and it is good to develop strategies to counter that.

1 comment: