Stimulating the brain by taking on leadership roles at work or staying on in education helps people stay mentally healthy in later life, according to new research.

The large-scale investigation, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, used data from more than 2,000 mentally fit people over the age of 65. It examined the theory that experiences in early or mid-life which challenge the brain make people more resilient to changes resulting from age or illness – they have higher “cognitive reserve”.

The analysis found that people with higher levels of reserve are more likely to stay mentally fit for longer, making the brain more resilient to illnesses such as dementia.

The research team analysed whether a healthy lifestyle was associated with better performance on a mental ability test. They found that a healthy diet, more physical activity, more social and mentally stimulating activity and moderate alcohol consumption all seemed to boost cognitive performance.

Paper: “Potentially modifiable lifestyle factors, cognitive reserve, and cognitive function in later life: A cross-sectional study”
Reprinted from materials provided by University of Exeter.