The thought of possibly developing dementia in the future is a terrifying image — one that many experience. This is particularly true for individuals who have cared for their loved ones suffering from this condition. They have seen first-hand how this condition impacts one’s quality of life.
As a society, we strive to prevent serious illnesses, including Alzheimer’s. Although there is no cure for this disease, researchers have found that one simple thing can potentially protect your brain for many years to come.
Study Finds Climbing Stairs May Protect Your Brain
Recently, a study published in Neurobiology of Aging, examined the brains of 331 participants using non-invasive MRIs. In order to measure brain health, they focused on grey matter volume. They compared grey matter volume to the number of flights of stairs that each individual climbed on a regular basis. They also looked at how many years they had spent in school.
What the researchers found, was that for every additional flight of stairs the participants climbed daily, the result was more grey matter in the brain. This increased volume was equivalent to being 0.58 years younger. In addition, for every year of education, the brain was shown to be approximately 0.95 years younger. This further strengthens the theory that greater education may reduce your risk of dementia.
What is encouraging about these findings, is that the majority of older people already climb stairs on a daily basis. This is something that does not require vigorous, strenuous physical activity. The researchers concluded that higher levels of education and daily flights of stairs climbed are both related to greater brain volume.
Exercise and Brain Health Go Hand-in-Hand
Numerous studies have discovered the benefits of exercise, including both physical and mental health advantages. From a decreased risk of heart disease to a lowered risk of depression, there are dozens of reasons to become more active. After all, anything that is good for your heart is good for your brain.
In one study, researchers from McMaster University discovered a potential connection between the body and mind. They found that interval training may help improve memory and reduce one’s risk of developing a neurological disease, including Alzheimer’s.
After being divided into three groups, the researchers monitored 95 participants. These individuals were tracked over the course of six weeks, based on their activity levels.
Group one began an intense training program, combining cognitive and physical exercise. The second group completed just physical training, whereas group three did not participate in any training.
The research team found that both group one and group two showcased better memory. The researchers measured levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports brain function and cell growth. By increasing these levels, which can be achieved through exercise, you can improve memory and support overall neurological health.
What About the Role of Education?
Throughout the research, there is strong evidence that people who are more educated may reduce their risk of dementia as they age. There are a number of theories, including specific variations found in people with higher levels of education. It is believed that education may strengthen neural networks that are not normally used.
These Finds May Also Transfer to Your Job
It has been found that those who work in brain-challenging jobs, especially those that focus on people, may protect themselves against age-related dementia. This means jobs that require complex social interactions may reduce the effects of brain damage. It is believed that speaking with people is a complex interaction and requires greater brain power, than working on your own.
Two key studies supported the theory that working your brain, either during work or play, can help reduce your risk of dementia.
One study conducted in Toronto found that people who are socially active (and work a stimulating job) with higher education were protected against age-related neurological decline. These effects were reported even when individuals ate a bad diet, which has been shown to increase dementia risk.
Another longitudinal study found that “brain exercise” also lowered dementia risk. However, these effects were only seen when brain-training exercises forced individuals to think under pressure.
The key takeaway here is that all enriched life experiences, including higher education and complex occupations, offer protection against Alzheimer’s. This relates to what is known as “cognitive reserve” — or your mind’s ability to resist brain-related damage.
After all, Leonardo da Vinci said it best, “Learning never exhausts the mind” — and in this case, it may even protect it.