By Mark Waghorn via SWNS
Going for a brisk walk or bike ride speeds up mental agility in women - but not men, according to new research.
But doing quizzes and crosswords or playing Sudoku boosts brainpower - in both sexes.
The study is the first to identify a gender gap between the benefits of physical and mental activity on thinking.
Lead author Professor Judy Pa, of the University of California, San Diego, said: "We found greater physical activity was associated with greater thinking speed reserve in women, but not in men.
"Taking part in more mental activities was associated with greater thinking speed reserve for both men and women."
Previous studies have suggested exercise, both physical and mental, preserve neurons and help delay dementia.
Prof Pa and colleagues found men fared best by focusing on the latter - while either had the same effect on women.
Each additional mental activity people participated in corresponded to 13 fewer years of aging in their processing speed in thinking skills - 17 and 10 years among men and women, respectively.
Prof Pa said: "As we have arguably few-to-no effective treatments for Alzheimer's disease, prevention is crucial. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment."
"To know that people could potentially improve their cognitive reserve by taking simple steps such as going to classes at the community center, playing bingo with their friends or spending more time walking or gardening is very exciting."
The US team looked at the effects of physical and mental activities such as reading, going to classes, or playing cards or games on cognitive reserve in the areas of thinking speed and memory.
Cognitive reserve is the buffer that occurs when people have strong thinking skills even when their brains show signs of the underlying changes associated with dementia.
Greater physical activity was not associated with memory reserve in men or women.
The study involved 758 people with an average age of 76.
Some had no thinking or memory problems while others had mild cognitive impairment or dementia. Participants had brain scans and took thinking speed and memory tests.
To calculate cognitive reserve, thinking tests scores were compared against changes in the brain associated with dementia, such as the total volume of the hippocampus, a key brain region impacted by Alzheimer’s.
People were also asked about their usual weekly physical activity and if they had participated in three types of activities in the past 13 months - reading magazines, newspapers or books; going to classes; and playing cards, games or bingo.
They were given one point for each type of activity, for a maximum of three points. For mental activity, participants averaged 1.4 points.
For physical activity, participants took part in an average of at least 15 minutes per week of activities that elevate heart rates such as brisk walking and biking.
A doubling of the amount of physical activity would be equivalent to an estimated 2.75 fewer years of aging when it comes to women’s processing speed in thinking skills, said Prof Pa.
Researchers also looked at whether the relationship between physical and mental activities and cognitive reserve was affected by the gene that carries the strongest risk for Alzheimer’s, known as APOE e4.
They found that for women, having the gene lessens the effects of the beneficial relationship between physical and mental activities and cognitive reserve.
The number of cases of dementia will triple to more than 150 million worldwide by 2050. With no cure in sight there is an increasing focus on lifestyle changes that reduce the risk.
The study is published in the journal Neurology.
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