Published on: December 8, 2016
by Peter Russell for WebMD:
Getting involved in social clubs and activities can help keep your brain healthy later in life, say researchers.
A study in the open access journal BMC Psychology found that people who were sociable through their life seemed to have better thinking skills when they were aged 50 than those who were more isolated.
Voluntary service and civic groups
Members of political parties, environmental groups or neighbourhood watch schemes, and those who took part in voluntary service and civic activities, all seemed to reap the benefits of better brain function.
The study included 9,119 men and women from England, Scotland and Wales who were born in 1958 and recruited to a long-term health study.
Researchers at the University of Southampton looked at various factors that contributed to a healthier brain. They found that having good thinking skills when they were aged 11, having higher education qualifications, involvement in community activities when they were 33 and 50, and being female, were associated with better mental well-being.
Being from a low socioeconomic background as a child and at age 42, and having poor mental well-being in adulthood were associated with worse brain function at the age of 50, they say.
Preventing mental decline
The researchers found that after they adjusted for other factors, such as health, social background and gender, the benefits of taking part in social activities on better mental abilities remained clear. Professor Ann Bowling, who led the study, says in a statement: “The implication is that if people continue to engage socially throughout life, maintaining related behaviours that require cognitive skills such as memory, attention and control, there may be some protection from cognitive decline.”
The authors say previous research has suggested that social activities can boost mental health and reduce stress and loneliness. But they say this latest study was able to see what happened to individuals over several decades.
The study used second-hand data, so the authors say they can only describe possible links rather than prove cause and effect.
Commenting on the findings in a statement, Dr Doug Brown, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, says: “There is strong evidence that exercise can help keep our brains healthy throughout our lives, but there is less research into the impact of socialising. This large and interesting study suggests that being sociable, for example by joining a community group, can help keep our brains sharp in middle age.
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