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Can I Bank Cognition Now for Old Age?

An older, Black married couple happily ride their bikes in a park together.

SAVING FOR A RAINY DAY IS AN IMPORTANT WAY TO COPE WITH FINANCIAL PROBLEMS. YOU CAN TAP INTO THE EXTRA CASH WHEN YOU LOSE A JOB OR SUDDENLY HAVE TO SHELL OUT MONEY TO FIX YOUR CAR So wouldn’t it be great if you could apply a rainy-day savings plan to your brain and have a healthy reserve that kicks in when neurons go south due to old age or dementia? Scientists believe it may be possible. The concept is called cognitive reserve. “It’s an active coping process that’s built up over a lifetime. What you do in life can contribute to it, even in older age,” says Yaakov Stern, a cognitive neuroscientist at Columbia Medical School who has studied cognitive reserve for decades. SECRET BRAIN STASH Cognitive reserve describes neural networks that are resilient and can maintain function even when there’s damage to brain cells. Researchers began studying this phenomenon in the 1980s, when they noticed in autopsy studies that some older adults had plaques and tangles in the brain (the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease), even though they hadn’t shown any signs of the condition when they were alive. Some of the suspected contributors to cognitive reserve are now part of the recipe used by academic brain performance clinics to build more of it. One of the main ingredients is exercise. “Exercise stimulates the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which helps new connections grow. If you have more connections in the brain circuits, then if some are lost or damaged by disease, you have additional connections that can still do the work for the brain without losing function,” says Ian Robertson, a research professor at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas—Dallas. Robertson says exercise also helps improve the insulation of the brain’s wiring that can become faulty with age or disease. While we don’t know yet exactly how much exercise is required to help build cognitive reserve, Robertson suggests going with the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or water aerobics. Read full story on U.S. News Published on U.S.News December 21, 2018    

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