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Engaging in Challenging Mental Activities Might Save Your Aging Brain, Study

Update Date: Oct 21, 2013 01:11 PM EDT

Mentally challenging activities learned in older adult years may be the way to save your brain from aging too quickly according to a new study.  

"We need, as a society, to learn how to maintain a healthy mind, just like we know how to maintain vascular health with diet and exercise," psychological scientist and lead researcher Denise Park of the University of Texas at Dallas, said in a news release. "We know so little right now." 

For the study researchers had 221 adults, ages 60 to 90, assigned to participate in one type of activity for 15 hours a week for the complete duration of three months. 

Digital photography and quilting were the activities some subjects were asked to learn. These activities are known to require a lot of engagement which utilized working memory and other cognitive skills. 

Listening to classical music and finishing word puzzles were the other activities some participants were to engage in.

"And, to account for the possible influence of social contact, some participants were assigned to a social group that included social interactions, field trips, and entertainment," according to the study.

Researchers found that the adults who took up on learning new skills showed improvement in memory than the participants who did social activities which didn't require many cognitive skills.

"The findings suggest that engagement alone is not enough," said Park. "The three learning groups were pushed very hard to keep learning more and mastering more tasks and skills." 

She added, "Only the groups that were confronted with continuous and prolonged mental challenge improved."

The findings show that more mental demanding activities are vital to keeping a brain in a healthy condition.

Researchers hope that with these findings they can follow up with the participants in one year and in five years to document if the effects of the learned activities stay with them throughout the years.

"This is speculation, but what if challenging mental activity slows the rate at which the brain ages" said Park. "Every year that you save could be an added year of high quality life and independence."

The findings will be published in the journal Psychological Science.

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