May 2, 2006

Stay Active and Connected and Keep Your Mind Sharp

Our ability to form new memories diminishes as we age. And according to Nobel Laureate James D. Watson, "the most important long-term medical challenge now facing advanced human civilizations may not be to stop cancer or Alzheimer's disease. Rather, it may be to slow down the rate at which we lose the ability to generate new adult nerve cells." We'd like our bodies to remain healthy and our minds to remain sharp. But how do we do that?

According to an ongoing study at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, having close friends and staying in contact with family members offers a protective effect against the damaging effects of Alzheimer's disease. Dr. David Bennett, one of the researchers heading the study, concluded:

"Many elderly people who have the tangles and plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease don't clinically experience cognitive impairment or dementia. Our findings suggest that social networks are related to something that offers a 'protective reserve' capacity that spares them the clinical manifestations of Alzheimer's disease."

Watson (above) also cites research that shows that when mice use treadmills to run long distances each day, they make new nerve cells at double the rate of their sedentary peers. So exercise may also provide a type of resistance to mental decline in humans, as it appears to do in mice. "I hope science will show that the same holds true for humans. I may still be on full salary because I still regularly play tennis with young pros who jump and lunge—and force me to do the same," says Watson.

Posted on May 2, 2006 1:39 PM
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