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5 activities that can keep your brain from aging

Brain scans

Optum Perks Author

By Optum Perks Author

From doing Sudoku puzzles to eating a Mediterranean diet and getting enough exercise, we’re continuously inundated with the latest trends in caring for your brain. Much of that research is geared towards things you can do in your younger years that will impact the health of your mind later on in life. But a circulating study reveals that even in your 70’s and beyond, simple activities likes surfing the web, playing bridge, and socializing can fight off mental decline.

The study, which was published in the journal JAMA Neurology (JAMA), looked at five activities that have the ability to combat the effects of an aging brain. These included:

  • Computer use
  • Craft making (like knitting, quilting, and scrapbooking)
  • Playing games (like chess or bridge)
  • Socializing (like going to the movies with friends)
  • Reading books

Yonas Geda, M.D., the lead researcher, and his team set out to determine whether or not these types of activities actually had any effect on reducing the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in subjects ages 70 to 89. Per the Mayo Clinic, MCI is “an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more-serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes.”


A group of 1,321 seniors from Olmsted County, Minnesota, were recruited for the study. 1,124 of the selected participants were cognitively normal and 197 had MCI. Researchers asked the seniors a series of questions, including whether or not they had engaged in any of the above five activities over the past year and analyzed how often they had done them. Each participant in the study underwent three face-to-face evaluations: 1) a neurological evaluation by a physician, 2) a risk factor assessment by a nurse or study coordinator, and 3) had a neuropsychological testing that was interpreted by a neuropsychologist.

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In the study, a research nurse or psychometrist interviewed each participant by using a structured survey with ordinal responses (e.g., reading books at a frequency of once per week, twice per week, etc.) The participants were asked to provide information about these activities within a year of the date of interview (late life cognitive activity). The measurement of cognitive activities was conducted and once the data was collected, a consensus panel of experts classified the study participant to be cognitively normal or to have MCI.

From their research, Dr. Geda and her team were able to conclude that cognitive activities such as computer use, playing games, reading, craft activities (quilting, knitting, etc.) were associated with 30% to 50% reduced odds of having MCI. Social activities, like going out with friends, were also associated with decreased odds of having MCI, although the impact was not as great as with the other four behaviors. The study also looked at watching television as a means of possibly reducing MCI and found that plopping down on the couch to take in your favorite sitcom was a “hypothetically less beneficial activity.” So the research suggests that watching less TV was actually associated with decreased odds of mental cognitive impairment.

An estimated 10 to 15 percent of adults age 65 and older are believed to suffer from mild cognitive impairment. The good news is there are activities that are now proven to keep your brain sharp even as you reach your golden years. So the next time you need to refresh and rejuvenate, switch off Netflix and try one of these activities. Pick up a good book, try a Pinterest-worthy craft, work on your computer, or take on your spouse in a friendly game of checkers. All of these activities challenge your brain and provide it with the stimulation that it needs in order to keep it running effectively. "Being engaged mentally is good for brain health,” says Heather Snyder of the Alzheimer’s Association. And studies show that regularly challenging yourself with mentally stimulating activities can lower your risk of dementia by a whopping 63%!