Study Finds Some Brains Age Quicker Than Others

04 March, 2019

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

The brain, like any other body part, gets old. However, not all brains age the same way. For example, women's brains may age more slowly than men's. That is the finding of a U.S. study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.

Researchers there wanted to find out how the brain uses sugar. To do that, they studied just over 200 brains of men and women aged 20 to 80. They used PET scans to look at the flow of oxygen and sugar in the brains.

This 2015 file photo shows a PET scan being done on a patient at a hospital in Washington, D.C.
This 2015 file photo shows a PET scan being done on a patient at a hospital in Washington, D.C.

The researchers found that the brains of women looked nearly four years younger than the brains of men who were born in the same year. Their findings suggest that the brains of men and women may use sugar differently as they age.

But the researchers do not know why. Some scientists suggest that hormones could play a part.

The lead author of the study, Manu Goyal, is an assistant professor of neurology and of neuroscience. In a statement published on the website Science Daily, Goyal explained why the work is important.

How the brain uses fuel, he wrote, "might help us understand some of the differences we see between men and women as they age."

What happens as our brains age?

On its website, the National Institute on Aging describes an aging brain.

Parts of the brain get smaller, "especially those important to learning and other complex mental activities." Communication between neurons may decrease. Blood flow may lesson and inflammation may increase.

All these changes slow our cognitive abilities. We have trouble remembering things, finishing complex tasks or paying attention.

Given what scientists already know about aging, the recent study about sex differences in the brain has raised some questions. For one, if women's brains age more slowly than men's, why do more women get Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder that cannot be stopped. It slowly destroys memory, thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest of tasks.

Alzheimer's does not have a cure. However, doctors say that between 50 to 60 percent of Alzheimer's cases can be prevented by simple lifestyle changes.

During sleep the brain repairs itself.
During sleep the brain repairs itself.

Ways to keep your brain young

Whether you are a man or a woman, here are some things you can do to keep your brain young and healthy.

  • Sleep is the easiest and best thing you can do keep your brain young. Experts say to try to get around seven hours of sleep each night.
  • Get aerobic exercise for 30 to 40 minutes three to four times a week. Exercise helps you grow brain cells and improves blood flow in the brain.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Doctors say any diet that is good for the heart is also good for the brain. One example is the Mediterranean diet with lots of vegetables (especially leafy greens), fruits (especially blueberries), nuts, whole grains, red wine (in moderation) and fish.
  • Do activities that make you excited and happy.
  • Spend time with family and friends.

The researchers of the brain study published their findings in February in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Goyal and his team plan to continue researching this topic. Currently, they are following a group of adults to see if people with "younger-looking brains" are less likely to develop problems with their thinking over time.

And that's the Health & Lifestyle report. I'm Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.


Words in This Story

PET scann. medical : an image made using positron emission tomography, especially one of the brain.

inflammation n. medicine : a condition in which a part of your body becomes red, swollen, and painful

cognitive n. medical : of, relating to, or being conscious intellectual activity (as thinking, reasoning, remembering, imagining, or learning words)

aerobic – adj. of exercise : strengthening the heart and lungs by making them work hard for several minutes or more