Exercise and social activities with friends and family effectively protect against memory decline with aging while reducing the natural loss of thickness in a part of the cerebral cortex that is closely linked to learning and memory.
A new study by experts at the University of Zurich (UZH) examined how regular physical, social and cognitive activities affect brain health in old age. The results are published in the English-language journal “NeuroImage”.
How do leisure activities affect the brain?
For the new research, the team analyzed data from a longitudinal study of brain development and behavior in old age to find out the connection between the thickness of the entorhinal cortex, memory performance and leisure activities in people over the age of 65.
The entorhinal cortex is a 3.5 millimeter thick portion of the cerebral cortex in the inner part of the temporal lobe that is known to play a key role in learning and memory. In addition, according to experts, this region of the brain is affected early on when people develop Alzheimer’s.
Entorhinal cortex and memory affected
“Our results show that people who were more physically and socially active at the start of the study had a smaller decrease in the thickness of the entorhinal cortex over a period of seven years,” reports study author Lutz Jäncke in a press release.
In addition, the team was able to show that the thickness of the entorhinal cortex is closely linked to memory performance. The less the thickness of the entorhinal cortex decreased during the study period, the smaller the decline in memory performance, explains the research team.
In addition, participants who had higher memory performance at the beginning of the study experienced a smaller decline in memory performance over the course of the study.
“Physical exercise and active leisure activities with friends and family are important for brain health and can prevent neurodegeneration in later life,” summarizes Jäncke.
“These findings support the idea of a cognitive reserve, according to which the brain can be trained like a muscle throughout life to counteract age-related decline,” adds study author Isabel Hotz.
Therefore, it seems advisable to make sure that you are physically active and do not neglect social contacts in order to benefit from the benefits for memory and brain health. (as)