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Bored brains shrink faster: study

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Bored brains shrink faster: study


14:28 AEST Mon Jul 14 2008

1 hour 42 minutes ago


The old adage "use it or lose it" is literally true, according to Australian research showing the brain shrinks faster if it is not stimulated.


Brain scans have revealed that people who do not engage in complex mental activity over their lifetime have twice the shrinkage in a key part of the brain in old age.


The finding sheds more light on the link between lifestyle and dementia, and adds strength to the evidence that mental gymnastics, like puzzles and new languages, stave off ageing diseases.


"We've got strong evidence here that people who use their brains more have less brain shrinkage," said Dr Michael Valenzuela, from the school of psychiatry at the University of NSW.


"I hope people take this as a further call to arms to get out there and use their brains, get engaged in anything from tai chi to world travel, in the knowledge that it may help delay or prevent the onset of dementia."


Mental activity has been found to delay the onset of the degenerative brain diseases, such as Huntington's, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, in large population studies.


Dr Valenzuela and his team were investigating the reasons behind this


"use it or lose it"


principle by studying the brains of 60-year-olds over three years and testing their lifetime mental agility with questionnaires.


Of the 50 people studied, those who had been more mentally active over their lives had a larger hippocampus, an important memory centre in the brain.


Critically, over the three-year period the area shrank at half the rate of those who had lower mental activity.


"This is a significant finding because a small hippocampus is a specific risk factor for developing Alzheimer's disease," said Dr Valenzuela, whose work is published in the journal PLoS ONE.


He said while many drug companies were trying to find a pharmaceutical target to prevent the shrinkage of the hippocampus, the good news is that people can help themselves.


"Our prior research shows the risk for dementia is quite malleable, even into late life," the researcher said.


"It is vital that everyone is involved in cognitive, social and physical activities in late life such as dancing, kirtan, reading Prabhupada's books and debatiing the points with sceptics, travelling and learning a new language, for example."


Hare Krsna from Melbourne ISKCON

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