There are many ways that you can boost your brainpower and prevent cognitive decline. Studies have shown that physical exercise, healthy eating, and mental exercises, like puzzles and games, are all great ways to stay mentally sharp. Now, a study that was recently published in the journal Neurology says that creating art may be even more effective at preventing cognitive decline than other activities.
This study looked at the activities of 256 people who were in their mid- to late-80s. Participants told researchers all of the activities that they had participated in, from midlife to currently. They told researchers which activities they used to do, which ones they started doing in midlife and continue to do, and which ones they only started doing recently.
The participants who reported that they took part in artistic activities both in midlife and currently, like painting, drawing, and sculpting, showed less cognitive decline than non-artistic participants. Only 16.7 percent of participants who created art reported any type of cognitive decline, compared to 49.2 percent of the group who were not engaged in artistic activities. Craft activities, such as woodworking, quilting, or sewing, were also linked with fewer incidents of mild cognitive impairment.
Researches don’t know why the artists seemed to test so much better on the cognitive tests than the non-artists. They have theorized that artistic activities stimulate the brain and may help neural pathways stay open and active. It is also possible that staying continually engaged in an artistic activity helps a person to develop a larger cognitive reserve, so when some brain cells no longer function, the brain can recruit alternate ones from the reserve to take over.
Because most of the artists in this study started participating in artistic activities in midlife, the researchers suggest that activities that might prevent cognitive decline, like creating art, should be started in midlife in order to be their most effective. So don’t wait to start a new hobby. Pick up a pencil and paper or paint and a paintbrush and start creating now.