We know reading can make you more informed, and if you’re reading the right stuff, it could even make you more intelligent. But a recent study published in the online journal Neurology from the American Academy of Neurology shows that reading and writing could help keep your mind sharper for longer while staving off memory loss.
According a press release from the Academy, the research looked at 294 elderly individuals, measuring their memory and thinking for about their last six years of life. Then, their brains were examined for evidence of the physical signs of dementia (lesions, brain plaques, and tangles). All of this was compared with the study participants’ reading and writing habits throughout their life.
“Our study suggests that exercising your brain by taking part in activities such as these across a person’s lifetime, from childhood through old age, is important for brain health in old age,” wrote the study’s author Robert S. Wilson, PhD.
The subjects were asked at what rates they read, wrote, and participated in “mentally stimulating activities” when they were children, young adults, in middle age, and at their current age.
Researchers found that those who participated in more of these activities had a slower rate in memory decline than those who did not participate in such activities.
After accounting for the tangles, lesions, and brain plaques, mental activity accounted for about 15% of the difference in memory decline. For those who participated in frequent mental activity, there was a 32% reduction in mental decline with age. Those who only had infrequent reading and writing habits experienced mental decline 48% faster than those who only had average mental activity participation.
“Based on this, we shouldn’t underestimate the effects on everyday activities, such as reading and writing, on our children, ourselves, and our parents or grandparents,” said Dr. Wilson.
Being concerned about how you will age is normal. This is especially true if you’ve seen family members decline as they got older. But there are ways to naturally increase the odds that your brain will age gracefully. In addition to mental activities like reading and writing, staying fit can help. Excess weight has been linked to age-related dementia, as has diabetes, often a consequence of excess weight.
Read: 5 Memory-Boosting Foods
Eating foods rich in various antioxidants is helpful too as they protect the brain from oxidative stress and free-radical damage. Dr. Robert Williams of Kings College in London has spent considerable time and research on flavonoids and their effects on brain health. You can increase flavonoid consumption by eating things like fruits, vegetables, and the occasional glass of red wine.