A final important aspect of an active lifestyle is cognitive activity.
Cognitive activity often promotes social interaction, sense of achievement, and enjoyment in similar ways to social activity. However, research exploring the effects of cognitive activity on health tend to focus on mental health – in the context of this review, dementia.
Cognitive activity has been identified as an effective factor in improving or maintaining cognitive health. However, to date, there are no guidelines on the optimum amount of cognitive activity for health benefits, nor is there a consensus on the best activities to perform.
Mechanisms affecting health
Tasks designed to be cognitively stimulating are associated with increased brain activation, which may reflect increased synaptic growth and repair (“neurogenesis” and “neuroplasticity”)(1). Attention and memory are believed to improve as outcomes of this beneficial neurogenesis and neuroplasticity(2). Higher engagement in cognitively demanding activities – such as reading books or newspapers, writing letters or emails, and playing games – is also associated with reduced accumulation of the extracellular plaques that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease(3). Having a more active cognitive lifestyle, including both occupational and social activities, is associated with a 40% decreased risk of dementia compared to low cognitive activity(4).
This is an extract from Healthy Ageing: The State of the Evidence and Available Resources. For more information or a copy of the full report, click here.
For links to additional information on mental activity, pleases consult the Healthy Ageing Resource Portal:
Remember, there are benefits to an overall active lifestyle. This also includes physical and social activity – you can read about the benefits of these below:
To read about other lifestyle factors associated with healthy ageing, click here:
1. Bahar-Fuchs, A., Clare, L., & Woods, B. (2013). Cognitive training and cognitive rehabilitation for mild to moderate Alzheimer's diseaseand vascular dementia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 6, 1-103.
2. Ortega, V., McDonald, K. R., Poliakoff, E., Hindle, J. V., Clare, L., & Leroi, I. (2015). Cognitive training interventions for dementia and mild cognitive impairment in Parkinson's disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 11, 1-15.
3. Landau, S. M., Marks, S. M., Mormino, E. C., Rabinovici, G. D., Oh, H., O'Neil, J. P., . . . Jagust, W. J. (2012). Association of lifetime cognitive engagement and low [beta]-amyloid deposition. Archives of Neurology, 69, 623-629.
4. Valenzuela, M., Brayne, C., Sachdev, P., Wilcock, G., & Matthews, F. (2011). Cognitive lifestyle and long-term risk of dementia and survival after diagnosis in a multicenterpopulation-based cohort. American Journal of Epidemiology, 173, 1004-1012.