“We found that greater physical activity was associated with greater reserves of thinking speed in women, but not in men,” study author Judy Ba, MD, associate professor of neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said in a statement.
“Participation in more mental activities was associated with greater reserve of thinking speed for both men and women,” said Ba, who is co-director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Collaborative Study at the University of California, San Diego.
However, the study found that any positive association between cognitive activities and memory reserve only applied to women.
Dr. said Richard Isaacson, MD, director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic in the Center for Brain Health at Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt School of Medicine. He did not participate in the study.
“In this study, a twofold increase in physical activity was equivalent to about 2.75 years less than the processing speed of aging in women,” Isaacson said. “Furthermore, each additional cognitive activity corresponds to 13 years less progression of processing speed on average among women and men.”
Processing speed, not memory
The study asked 758 people with an average age of 76 about their weekly physical and mental activities. Participants received points for each of the three categories of cognitive engagement: taking lessons in different topics; playing cards, games or bingo; Read magazines, newspapers and books.
Everyone in the study underwent a brain scan and had tests of thinking speed and memory: some people showed signs of cognitive impairment and dementia while others had no problems with thinking or memory. The researchers then compared the results of the tests with brain scans of the hippocampus, a part of the brain linked to dementia.
The study found that each additional mental activity, such as playing cards or reading, reduces the aging of a person’s mental processing speed by an average of 13 years – 17 years among men and 10 years among women.
“Because we have few or no effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, prevention is critical. One ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment,” Ba said. “Knowing that people can improve their cognitive reserve by taking simple steps such as going to classes at the community center, playing bingo with their friends, or spending more time walking or gardening is very exciting.”
However, the study did not find any significant effect on memory. For example, greater physical activity was not associated with additional memory reserves in either men or women. why? This is a complex question, said Isaacson, who also serves as a trustee for the McKnight Brain Research Foundation, which focuses on cognitive aging research and education.
“Was the memory test used sensitive enough to detect change? Were the people in the study exercising enough to really move the needle?” asked Isaacson.
“In our work, we’ve found that some people need to really stick to their exercise program to show the effects on the memory domain,” he said. “For example, people with one or more copies of the APOE4 gene variant need to participate in more intense cardiovascular exercise programs, such as high-intensity interval training on a regular basis, to show positive effects.”
Genetic risk of Alzheimer’s disease
Women in the new study who carried the APOE4 gene did not see the same benefits for their cognitive reserve from additional physical and mental activities.
“The most interesting aspect of the study is that APOE4 differentiates women from men,” said Rudi Tanzi, MD, professor of neuroscience at Harvard Medical School and director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
“It is likely that APOE4 increases amyloid burden in women more than in men,” said Tanzi, who was not involved in the study. “Or perhaps once amyloid builds up, it leads to a rapid cascade of disease and neurodegeneration in women versus men.”
“The study also suggests that women who carry an APOE4 (genetic variant) risk of Alzheimer’s disease may need to be more careful about leading a brain-healthier lifestyle,” he added.
The study had limitations: participants reported themselves Physical and mental activity, so people may not remember it correctly. The study also did not control for other factors, such as education, that affect how well a person’s brain progresses.
“While exercise and staying mentally shined in this study, a holistic approach toward reducing Alzheimer’s risk factors is the best recipe for success,” Isaacson said.