Less mental activity shrinks brain faster

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Sydney, Jul 17 (UNI) Use your brains for a sound mental health in old age! An Australian study has revealed that people who do not engage in complex mental activity have twice the shrinkage in a key part of the brain in old age.

The findings published in a Public Library of Science journal, 'One', adds strength to the evidence that mental gymnastics, like puzzles and new languages, delayed the onset of degenerative brain diseases, such as huntington's, alzheimer's, dementia and parkinson's.

Investigating the reasons behind the ''use it or lose it'' principle, a team of researchers at the University of New South Wales conducted brain scans of 60-year-olds over three years and tested their lifetime mental agility with questionnaires.

The researchers found that 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,'' author of the study Dr Michael Valenzuela noted.

''It is vital that everyone is involved in cognitive, social and physical activities in late life such as dancing, tai chi, sailing, travelling and learning a new language, in the knowledge that it may help delay or prevent the onset of dementia and such other ailments,'' Dr Valenzuela suggested.

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