Mental Exercise Can Keep Brain Young

Several British publications including the BBC-News reported on September 7, 2005 on information presented at the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Dublin last month showing that mental and physical exercise can help keep your brain young.

In his presentation Ian Robertson, a professor of psychology at Trinity College in Dublin explained that those who remained physically fit, avoided high stress levels, engaged in mental stimulation by learning new things and enjoyed a rich and varied social life, as well as simply thinking young were better equipped to stay alert as they age. He stated, “The biggest threat to being able to function well and properly is our brains. There is very strong evidence, particularly in the over-50s, that the degree to which you maintain your mental faculties depends on a handful of quite simple environmental factors.”

Professor Robertson was reporting on a study by American researchers who conducted a study with 3000 men and women aged between 65 and 94 who volunteered for a mental sharpness training program. In this study one group was given memory training, a second trained in problem-solving and reasoning, a third group was shown how to speed up problem-solving and reaction times through computer game-like exercises that became steadily more difficult. A fourth group was used as the control group for comparison and received no training.

The study took place in 10 one-hour training classes over a six-week period. The volunteers returned 11 months later for re-evaluation and comparison. The results showed that those who took the various training showed improved cognitive ability when compared with those who were in the control group and got no training at all. The study further showed the ongoing benefits as four extra training sessions were given a year after the end of the original study and showed an improvement in mental abilities even further.

Robertson, reporting on the progress of those in the study noted that, “The training on average took about a decade off the cognitive age of these volunteers.” He advocated a “use it or lose it” approach. In the study the scientist stressed that the decline in mental sharpness usually seen in people over the age of 65 is not inevitable, and can be stopped or even reversed by mental exercise.