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Lifebrain Monthly E-newsletter September 2018 

An active lifestyle is linked with good brain health in old age

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Lifebrain at the Oslo Science Expo

Lifebrain exhibited at the Oslo Science Expo last week (21st-22nd September), as part of the National Science Week in Norway (Forskningsdagene). This is a nationwide event held every year to make science and research available to the public. Read our short article on the event by clicking here.

An active lifestyle is linked with good brain health in old age

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) allows scientists to gain a better understanding of how the brain structure changes with age. We find age-related shrinkage of the grey matter (containing the nerve cells) in certain brain regions, reductions in the quality of white matter tracts connecting different brain regions, and often damage to these tracts. As these age-related alterations in the brain structure have been linked with decline in attention and memory, we try to identify lifestyle factors that may reduce these changes. Leisure activities, such as reading, playing cards or board games and visiting friends and family, have come into the spotlight in recent years.

Source: Colourbox

About the review methods

Unfortunately, no single MRI study can establish whether an association between our lifestyle and the brain truly exists because there are too few participants in each study. To assess whether social activities are important for maintaining brain health in old age, the findings of many studies need to be considered and evaluated together. A recent review published in the Journal of Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, set out to address this objective.
In the review performed by Anatürk and colleagues, 18 published studies on self-reported activities and at least one MRI scan were evaluated. These researchers used a meta-analysis, which pools results from all available studies and identifies whether there is consistent evidence for a link between certain daily activities and brain structures. 

Source: Adapted figure from Anatürk et al. (2018).

Conclusions and next steps

The reviewers found that frequently engaging in social and intellectually stimulating activities were associated with large hippocampal volume (a region of the brain essential for memory) and whole-brain measures of white matter volume. Higher activity levels were also related to less white matter damage.
Overall, these results indicate that frequently engaging in social and intellectually stimulating activities is linked to better brain health in old age. Leisure activities could be potential targets for community-based interventions to promote healthy ageing. Examining data collected through our Lifebrain project may help to pinpoint specific activities that might be particularly important for brain structure and function.

Source of newsletter

This newsletter was edited by Melis Anatürk, Professor Klaus Ebmeier and Dr. Claire Sexton, Lifebrain researchers at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford.

The referred study

Anaturk M., Demnitz N., Ebmeier KP., Sexton CE (2018): A systematic review and meta-analysis of structural magnetic resonance imaging studies investigating cognitive and social activity engagement in older adults. Journal of Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews. 2018 Oct;93:71-84. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.06.012. Epub 2018 Jun 27.



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Center for Lifespan Changes in Brain and Cognition at the University of Oslo
Kristine B. Walhovd project coordinator
Barbara B. Friedman administrative coordinator
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This project has received funding from the European Union ’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 732592.
Copyright © 2018 Lifebrain Horizon2020 project, All rights reserved.

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