Passion, exercise and relationships protect against cognitive decline

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In a recent article, researchers reviewed studies linking three key lifestyle factors to brain health. Images Mint RF/Getty Images
  • In a recent article, researchers reviewed studies linking exercise, relationships and passion to brain health.
  • They found reasonable evidence that all three factors provide protection against cognitive decline.
  • Their review noted that randomized controlled trials are needed to confirm their findings.

Changes in cognitive functions during the aging process are Related to the volume of white and gray matter in the brain.

Gray matter is made up of biological structures including neuronal cell bodies, synapses, and capillaries while white matter is made up of myelinated axons, through which signals are carried between neurons.

Volume of gray matter regularly declines around 10 years old. Research suggests that medically and cognitively healthier individuals experience less brain atrophy than less healthy individuals.

Studies also show that regular exercisestrong relationships and passion are essential for maintaining a healthy brain during the aging process.

In a recent paper, researchers conducted an extensive review of the extensive literature available on the link between developing brain physiology and physical activity, social relationships, and passion. Based on the evidence, they report that increased passion for an area or skill leads to more physical activity, more social relationships, and better well-being.

“[From our research]we have found that passion – or a strong interest – can be a [key motivational factor for achievement and well-being] because it defines the direction of the arrow,” said Hermundur Sigmundsson, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the lead author. Medical News Today.

“Therefore, we say: Find your passion and develop it! Courage, or perseverance, is the size and strength of the arrow. Find your area of ​​interest and focus on the process. [Be ready to] meet challenges! Challenges are the key to development! he added.

The article was recently published in a special issue of brain science.

Observational studies indicate that an active lifestyle is helpful in maintaining cognitive and neurological health in all age groups, particularly in higher-order processes such as switching between tasks, working memory and cognitive inhibition.

The researchers noted in their paper that intervention studies have confirmed these findings.

For example, older people who did 1 hour of aerobic training 3 times a week for 6 months had increased gray and white matter volume compared to controls.

Other research shows that physical activity increases functionality in brain areas related to attention and attention control, activities of daily living, and cognitive reserve, a reserve of thinking skills that acts as a buffer against age-related cognitive decline.

The new article points to studies that suggest that maintaining social ties improves cognitive reserve through cognitive strategies, greater neuronal growth and synaptic density, which protect against disease processes.

Imaging studies have demonstrated that broader social networks are linked to a larger orbitofrontal cortex—involved in decision-making—and amygdala volume.

These studies also show that people who are less socially active have a greater number of white matter lesions.

Additionally, randomized controlled trials have shown that social relationships can improve cognitive reserve, and interventions have shown that increased social interaction in communities is linked to better cognitive function and larger brain volume.

Other studies, however, indicate no link between social relationships and cognitive function later in life. The researchers therefore suggest that stronger evidence from randomized controlled trials is needed to demonstrate causation.

In their paper, the researchers defined passion as “a strong feeling toward a personally important value/preference that motivates intentions and behaviors to express that value/preference.”

Other research has shown that passion is linked to more deliberate practice in football players and to better well-being and performance in workers.

The researchers also noted that passion could therefore be important for maintaining neural plasticity. They wrote: “…hence the repetition, use it or lose it, use it and improve it and the intensity.”

An example of this is someone who is passionate about learning new languages. The researchers wrote that passion can motivate an individual to practice more of the second language and thus strengthen their gray matter, neural cells and connections.

They also noted that psychological traits such as courage and a growth mindset were also related to the development of gray matter in different parts of the brain.

The researchers further cited a number of papers which suggest that impaired motor function, antisocial behavior, depression and anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure) are common in neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders and in the natural aging process.

They thus suggested that a “vicious circle” could be at play: less physical activity can promote less social engagement and less well-being.

“Passion gives direction to the area of ​​interest, which could be related to the dopamine system, which is central to attention, learning, goal-oriented behaviors and rewards. Passion can provide the focus essential to achieving long-term goals,” the researchers wrote.

When asked how physical activity, socialization, and passion improve brain health, Art Kramer, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the department of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, not involved in the research, said DTM:

We know more about the mechanisms underlying physical activity than about social interactions or learning new skills, as there is decades of literature on the effects of physical activity on brain health, learning and memory, as there are excellent animal models for physical activity (often wheel racing with rodents).

“The animal literature suggests a number of brain changes associated with physical activity, including new neurons in regions of the brain that support memory, more connections between neurons (called synapses), and an increase in vascular structure. Increased neurotransmitters and nerve growth factors (among other changes) have also been associated with increased physical activity in animal models.

– Art Kramer, Ph.D., professor emeritus at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

The researchers concluded that physical exercise, social interactions and passion are essential for maintaining brain health.

Asked about the limitations of the article, Dr. Sigmundsson noted that their article was only a review and intervention studies focused on increasing passion, physical activity and engagement. should be carried out to confirm their hypotheses.

Dr Kramer added: “There are a number of limitations, including how best to personalize these factors to improve cognitive and brain function in individuals, as well as how best to combine intellectual engagement, physical activity and social interactions to maximize their lifelong benefits. and with non-patients and patients.

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