The 94-year-old dynamo Betty White once told veterinarian Steve Dale: “I’ll tell you how hooked in I am to crossword puzzles, I’m so hooked that when I puppy train a dog, and put papers down, when I see a crossword puzzle, I grab it so the dog doesn’t tinkle on it.” Betty White certainly believes in the brain-protective power of puzzles and games, even though lately researchers have been saying, “Not so much.”
U.K. scientists tested brain-training on around 11,000 folks and found that while they did better at the tasks they were training on, they didn’t get sharper at unrelated cognitive tasks. A Harvard study found no relationship between frequent mental activity and avoiding development of brain markers for Alzheimer’s disease.
But now, an in-depth brain study from the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT-Dallas has determined that new learning and cognitive challenges are brain-protective as you age. In a group of older folks who spent 15 hours a week over 14 weeks learning progressively more complicated skills in digital photography or quilting, researchers found that brain regions associated with attention and semantic processing began to modulate brain activity more efficiently. “This,” said the lead researcher, “is some of the first experimental evidence that mentally-challenging leisure activities can actually change brain function and that it is possible that such interventions can restore levels of brain activity to a more youth-like state.”
So be like Betty and protect your aging brain by spending time with friends, taking a class, walking 10,000 steps a day, meditating and doing a crossword daily.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.