Sports and social activities important for mental health | Health City Berlin

Thursday, October 6, 2022 – Author: zdr

What can you do to keep your brain in shape as you age? Playing sports, for example, because that promotes the computing power of the brain and the connection between the hemispheres and sectors of the brain. But there are at least three other key factors.

In an aging society a Centrally Important Question: How do we stay healthy and vital well into old age? Healthy aging means: avoiding the usual health restrictions of old age, in particular a decline in cognitive abilities, for as long as possible. As a general rule, only a small proportion of older people make it. Therefore, research has mainly focused on treating the typical signs of aging, such as frailty or Alzheimer’s disease.

New Focus on Aging Research: What Keeps Healthy People Healthy?

Scientific institutions such as the Leibniz Institute for Resilience Research (LIR) or the University Medical Center Mainz are following a different and more recent approach. Here the question of which biological mechanisms protect healthy aging people is investigated. Oliver Tüscher is Research Professor for Resilience and Research Group Leader at the University Medical Center Mainz. In the interview, he explains his interdisciplinary research work on the transition from psychological to neurobiological research and current findings on healthy aging.

Interview with resilience researcher from Mainz Oliver Tüscher

Mr. Tüscher, why do you think it is so important to address the resilience of older people in addition to treating diseases?

In psychiatry, but also in the science of aging, no new drug has been developed for the brain in the last thirty years, which achieves a relevant improvement in diseases of these areas. That’s why there was a paradigm shift: if we’re not making progress in fighting disease as we’d hoped, then we might make some progress if we better understand the brain’s protective mechanisms.

Why are only a few older people better able to counteract physical and mental decline, in other words, to be resilient? What factors play a role in this?

There is a very complex interplay of factors that cause most people to experience functional loss as they age. In our research we wanted to find out: What are the protection systems that prevent or stop these functional losses? To do this, we analyze older people who, unlike the vast majority, remain cognitively healthy. We have already identified some factors for its resilience at the brain level. For example, we see that the brains of cognitively healthy and resilient older people are more internally connected than the brains of functionally impaired older people. We are currently investigating the hypothesis that resilient older people use both hemispheres of the brain to a greater extent.

What is the role of genetics and what role do living conditions play in resilience in old age?

We know from longevity research that there is a genetic age limit. However, this does not necessarily determine whether we age in a healthy way, since other factors are also involved. When it comes to resilience in old age, it can be cautiously and only very tentatively said that only about ten percent is determined genetically and a good 90 percent through personal life experiences and lifestyle, as well as the social environment.

What could your findings contribute to nursing practice? What incentives could they provide?

Three factors can provide valuable suggestions for nursing practice. First, we have seen that older people who are very physically active perform better on cognitive tests. Your physical activity promotes connectivity between the different areas of the brain and also between the cerebral hemispheres. This shows how important it is, especially for brain health, to exercise regularly: the more, the better.

A recent study has also shown biologically for the first time that the Mediterranean diet has a positive effect on brain health and cognitive abilities. What we have always seen epidemiologically in the past can now also be clearly shown mechanically. A third important factor that we can identify is social interaction: those who are socially active are cognitively healthy longer. Social interaction challenges people in a more holistic way than, for example, purely cognitive tasks; for example, emotions and attention control are also stimulated.

(Source: German Society of Geriatrics/DGG)

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