Young people need enrichment to build cognitive capacity, while adults, especially older ones, need it to maintain cognitive capacity and prevent neurodegeneration. In particular, decades of research show that mental, physical and social stimulation is one of the potential ways to ward off Alzheimer’s disease.
For example, in a study of one community in Chicago, older adults were scored on how much they participated in mentally stimulating activities using a 5-point scale, 5 being most frequent and 1 being least frequent. Four years later, those who scored higher were found less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. In fact, a one-point increase in the activity score was associated with a 64% reduction in disease risk.
When it comes to physical exercise, cognitive researchers favor aerobic exercises such as jogging and cycling… Aerobic exercises can get our heart pumping, increase blood flow to the brain, boost oxygen and nutrient supply, protect neurons from oxidative stress and fight inflammation. An analysis of 10 studies with a combined 23,000 participants found that physically active older adults were 40% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
When it comes to cognitive benefits, what we do matters less than that we do: Read a book, travel with friends, learn chess, join the choir—live your life as though someone left the gate open.