Intellectual activities throughout life will save your brain in old age

Intellectual activities throughout life will save your brain in old age

Solving math problems and doing crossword puzzles does not protect against mental decline, suggests a new study in Scotland.


The crucial factor is regularly doing intellectual activities throughout life. This might boost mental ability and provide a higher cognitive point from which to decline, conclude the researchers, BBC reports.


The study followed 498 people born in 1936 who had taken part in a group intelligence test at the age of 11.  It was carried out by Roger Staff at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and the University of Aberdeen.


The study was published in BMJ.



The idea of "use it or lose it"


Up to now researchers have accepted widely the idea of "use it or lose it" concerning our brains in later life.  But the new research found that engagement in problem solving did not protect an individual from decline.


Previously, some studies have found that cognitive training can improve some aspects of memory and thinking, particularly for people who are middle-aged or older. But no studies have shown that brain training prevents dementia.


Moreover, a report from the Global Council on Brain Health recommended that people should take part in stimulating activities such as learning a musical instrument, designing a quilt or gardening rather than brain training to help their brain function in later life.


What this study adds about mental decline


Here the study’s authors describe it in their own words:


  • This study used repeated cognitive measures in a well characterised sample of volunteers drawn from one birth year (1936)
  • Self reported intellectual engagement had no influence on the trajectory of decline of memory and processing speed
  • Engagement in intellectual stimulating activities was associated with early life ability, but also had no association with the trajectory of decline in later life
  • Engagement in problem solving activities had the largest association with life course cognitive gains


Finally, for those of you struggling to come up with good ideas for Christmas presents for the “developing” adults in your life—although a shiny new chess board, 1000 page Sudoku puzzle book, or all-inclusive tickets to the museum of modern art’s quiz night might not influence trajectories of cognitive decline, have no fear. If family and friends give you a disappointed look on opening their Christmas present, remind them that investment in intellectual activities throughout life could provide them with a higher cognitive point from which to decline. Surely, this is as good a gift as any!”


Read the whole study HERE