Do benefits of physical, mental activity on thinking differ for men and women?

Studies have shown that physical and mental activity help preserve thinking skills and delay dementia. A new study suggests that these benefits may vary for men and women. The study is published in the July 20, 2022, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study 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 cognitive impairment and dementia.

“We found that greater physical activity was associated with greater thinking speed reserve in women, but not in men,” said study author Judy Pa, PhD, of the University of California, San Diego. “Taking part in more mental activities was associated with greater thinking speed reserve for both men and women.”

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, some had mild cognitive impairment, and some had dementia. The participants had brain scans and took thinking speed and memory tests. To calculate cognitive reserve, people’s thinking tests scores were compared against the changes in the brain associated with dementia, such as the total volume of the hippocampus, a key brain region impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.

People were also asked about their usual weekly physical activity. For mental activity, they were asked whether they 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.

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