Effective brain exercise can be as simple as taking up a new hobby or switching your daily routine

It has long been recognized that the brain is like the heart in that it requires regular workouts to stay nimble–and now a new study led by the Indiana University School of Medicine is being credited for providing the first scientific evidence that brain training can help ward off dementia.

The study, released last November, collected data from a project that monitored 2,802 healthy older adults over a 10-year period, as they aged from 74 to 84 on average. The participants were assigned to groups performing one of three different kinds of cognitive training: memory training, reasoning training or speed of processing training. The speed of processing training was done by asking the participants to identify an object in the centre and at the periphery of a screen.

Of the 1,220 participants who completed the project, 260 developed dementia—but researchers say the risk of developing the disease was 29 percent lower for those who had done speed of processing training.

Nalini Sen, director, research program at the Alzheimer Society of Canada, says the findings “are consistent with our message that actively exercising the brain, along with physical exercise, may reduce the onset of dementia.”

While the University of Indiana study's brain twisters may seem overly complex to undertake regularly, Sen notes that “effective brain exercise is very simple and includes things like taking up a new hobby or even switching around one’s daily routine.”

Sen stresses that although exercising the brain can be done while on the Internet, “being socially active is something we strongly advocate because it rejuvenates the brain and also wards off depression, which is said to be a contributing factor to dementia.”