Stimulating mental activities keep the brain young: study

Growing old with all your wits about you could be as easy as A-B-C and 1-2-3.

In a new study out of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, researchers found that simple activities such as reading the newspaper, writing letters, visiting a library, attending a play or playing chess or checkers can all work to boost healthier brainpower among seniors.

Presented over the weekend at the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago, scientists showed that mental activities like reading and writing can preserve the structural integrity of brains in older people -- a finding that could also keep age-related cognitive diseases at bay.

After taking magnetic resonance imaging scans of 152 elderly participants with a mean age of 81 living without dementia or mild cognitive impairment, researchers found that those who reported engaging in mentally stimulating activities also showed higher structural integrity in their brains.

"Several areas throughout the brain, including regions quite important to cognition, showed higher microstructural integrity with more frequent cognitive activity in late life," said lead author Konstantinos Arfanakis in a statement.

"Keeping the brain occupied late in life has positive outcomes."

Meanwhile, at the same conference, researchers from the University of California Los Angeles added to an existing body of research which advocates physical exercise for healthy, cognitive aging. Their study found that seniors who engaged in activities like recreational sports, gardening, cycling and dancing had higher gray matter volume.

Similarly, a 2010 Canadian study out of the University of British Columbia found that seniors put on a year-long strength training program improved their cognitive function.