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Previous studies have shown that the mind benefits from cognitive exercise, but a new study presented at the recent annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) and reported in ScienceDaily.com reveals that late-life cognitive activity such as reading, writing, and playing games may also have an effect on the brain's white matter, which is the area of the brain that houses the body's information transmitters.
Using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique, researchers focused on diffusion anisotropy (the way water molecules move through the brain). They later found out that water molecules have an easier time moving through the brain when the water moves in a parallel direction with the brain's axons.
"In healthy white matter tissue, water can't move as much in directions perpendicular to the nerve fibers," explains Konstantinos Arfanakis, Ph.D., from Rush University Medical Center and Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. "But if, for example, you have lower neuronal density or less myelin, then the water has more freedom to move perpendicular to the fibers, so you would have reduced diffusion anisotropy. Lower diffusion anisotropy values are consistent with aging."
The researchers discovered that senior citizens who engaged in more mental activities like reading newspapers and magazines or playing checkers and board games have higher diffusion anisotropy values in the brain. This indicates that their brains are actually similar to the brains of younger individuals.
In the long run, this research may have very positive implications for those who want to keep dementia and other age-related mental problems at bay. For now, however, more research is needed. Still, it can't hurt for you to start exercising your brain now.
(Photo by Alfonso Jimenez via Flickr Creative Commons)