Jon Pearl rarely passes a book rack without stopping. At 73, he still takes continuing education classes.
“I just want to understand things,” he said.
Pearl’s interest in reading could help him retain his memory. New research from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago suggests exercising the brain might slow the rate of memory decline.
“The people that are very active actually decline 70 percent slower, compared to people who are not very mentally active,” said Dr. David Bennett, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush.
Researchers followed about 300 elderly people, giving them tests to measure their memory and thinking. Patients were also asked about how much mental exercise they did during each stage of their life.
The brain-boosting activities in the study involved looking for and processing information. Participants read books, wrote letters and visited the library. Watching TV, listening to the radio and doing crossword puzzles can also help keep the brain active.
Researchers said it's unclear whether the activities enhance existing memory or whether they are creating entirely new connections in the brain.
“If you haven't done a lot before, it's not too late to start,” said Bennett. “If you're young, don't wait. It goes back to the old adage, ‘Use it or lose it.’”
Pearl said he's happy to hear his passion for reading could have big health benefits. He's already reading up for another class he's taking in fiction later this summer.
“Reading gives you more to remember,” he said. “I never thought of it as boosting your memory.”