Thinking hard is by it’s nature a pain in the ass. But, it’s also fun and has the added benefit of potentially staving off Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Valenzuela et al used the Lifetime of Experiences Questionnaire (LEQ) to estimate the extent to which 37 healthy older individuals had engaged in complex mental activity throughout their lives. They also performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure hippocampal volume in the participants, at the beginning of the study when they completed the questionnaire, and again three years later.
A strong correlation was found between the level of mental activity, as evaluated with the questionnaire, and the rate of atrophy in the hippocampus. Those participants with a high LEQ score experienced an average loss of 3.6% of hippocampal volume in the 3 year period over which the study was carried out, whereas those with low scores exhibited an average of 8.3% hippocampal volume loss over the same period (see figure below).
Moreover, there was a negative correlation between LEQ scores and shrinkage of the hippocampus – in other words, the higher an individual’s score on the questionnaire, the less their hippocampus had atrophied over the duration of the study.
Less shrinkage, less dumb. Lifestyle plays a big role in the fight against Alzheimer’s (a disease my Grandfather is currently losing). One of the weapons at our disposal is mental activity. The others (possibly even more effective ones) involve exercise and diet (for more on these topics check out my fitness blog).