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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Computer Use, Exercise May Save Memory

Study Shows Mental and Physical Exercise May Help Protect Against Memory Loss

Cutting Risk of Cognitive Impairment continued...

When the researchers took into account other risk factors for mild cognitive impairment, they found that "the beneficial joint effect of moderate physical exercise and computer use was more than what would be predicted from the arithmetic sum of the two," Geda says.

The researchers did not distinguish between different types of computer use.

The findings support other research showing that both physical and mental exercises are good for the brain, says Julie Schneider, MD, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, who moderated the session at which the study was presented.

What is new here, she says, is the suggestion that both activities are better than either alone.

Mental Skills: Use Them or Lose Them

A second study presented at the meeting suggests that when it comes to mental skills, use them or lose them.

The researchers looked at cognitive reserve -- "the extra capacity that you have to accomplish tasks mentally," says Bruce Reed, MD, professor of neurology at the University of California at Davis.

"We all have some reserves, some have more than others," he tells WebMD. "They protect us when we get disease or injury."

In older people, studies have shown that the amount of brain pathology at autopsy, such as abnormal clusters of brain cells called plaques and tangles, is a good measure of mental reserve, Reed says.

The study involved about 700 elderly people who had undergone autopsies. The researchers found that the more mind-building exercises such as reading books and playing games that participants did throughout life, the greater their cognitive reserves at death.

Similarly, people with more education had greater cognitive reserve at death, the study shows.

When the researchers looked further, they found that the effect of cognitive activities was more important than education.

"If you have only a high school education and do a lot of cognitive actives throughout life, you'll have greater cognitive reserves. If you have a college education and don’t do anything with it, that predicts lower reserves and less protection against dementia and other injury," Reed tells WebMD.

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