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How Lifestyle Choices Impact Aging Brains

Published on Wed Jun 14 2023NMCSD Staff Conduct MRI Scan of a Patient’s Brain | Navy Medicine on Flickr NMCSD Staff Conduct MRI Scan of a Patient’s Brain | Navy Medicine on Flickr

New Study Explores the Relationship Between Lifestyle and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults

A new study has investigated the potential link between lifestyle choices and cognitive decline in older adults. The study, which is yet to be published, aimed to determine if functional system segregation in the brain mediates the effects of lifestyle on cognition in older individuals.

Cognitive decline is a common occurrence in aging populations, with declines most noticeable in memory and fluid intelligence. Previous research has demonstrated that engagement in multiple leisure activities during midlife can have a protective effect on cognition later in life. This phenomenon, known as cognitive reserve, suggests that certain lifestyle choices can help mitigate the effects of age-related cognitive decline. Additionally, studies have shown that the functional organization of the brain's large-scale networks becomes less segregated with age, which may have negative implications for cognition.

The researchers utilized data from the CamCAN dataset, which includes functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data, cognitive measures of fluid intelligence and episodic memory, as well as retrospective lifestyle data from the Lifetime of Experiences Questionnaire (LEQ). They found a negative association between age and functional segregation in all three brain tasks, confirming previous findings. Interestingly, they also found that functional segregation was still related to fluid intelligence even after accounting for the age effects.

However, despite these findings, the study did not find evidence to support the hypothesis that functional segregation mediates the relationship between midlife activities and cognitive abilities in late life. The researchers conducted additional exploratory analyses but failed to find evidence that late-life functional segregation is related to youth-specific activities, such as education, or that midlife activities are associated with current functional segregation. These results indicate that the specific brain mechanism by which midlife activities contribute to cognitive reserve remains unknown.

While the study did not establish a direct link between lifestyle choices and functional system segregation in the brain, it reinforces the importance of engaging in a variety of leisure activities throughout life to promote cognitive health. Physical and social activity, as well as continued learning, have been shown to positively contribute to cognitive reserve and may help individuals maintain cognitive abilities as they age.

The findings of this study have significant implications for older adults looking to protect their cognitive health. Engaging in multiple leisure activities and adopting a physically and socially active lifestyle can play a crucial role in preserving cognitive function throughout life. While the specific brain mechanisms underlying the relationship between lifestyle and cognition are still not fully understood, this research highlights the importance of leading a well-rounded and active lifestyle for long-term brain health.


Written by Petar Raykov Ethan Knights Richard Henson (University of Cambridge)
Tags: Medicine

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