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Brain research: The lifestyle can be read directly in the brain


Too much alcohol? Regular sport? Socially integrated? The brain reveals it!

Almost everyone is aware that the lifestyle of a person has a positive and negative effect on the entire body in some way. A German research team has now shown in a study how surprisingly clearly a healthy or unhealthy lifestyle can be read in the brain. In addition, our thinking organ reveals how strongly we are involved in our social environment.

Researchers at Forschungszentrum Jülich have found out how a person's lifestyle is reflected in the brain. With 248 women and 301 men aged 55 to 85 years, the team was able to understand the lifestyle using magnetic resonance imaging and thus provide information on alcohol consumption, smoking status, social integration and sporting activity. The study was recently published in the renowned journal "Nature Communications".

Show me your brain and I'll tell you who you are

According to the researchers, this is the most comprehensive work to read information about a person's lifestyle on the brain. "In previous studies, mostly only one aspect was examined," reports Professor Svenja Caspers in a press release on the study results. "However, our data set allows all four aspects to be considered simultaneously in each individual subject and also to reveal effects that only come about through the interaction of the various factors," said the expert.

Sport and social contacts - a remedy for the brain

“According to our results, sport, social contacts and alcohol have a direct impact on the structure of the brain,” adds Nora Bittner. For example, the gray matter in certain brain regions is better preserved in people with a lively social environment than in people with little social contact. Sport also has a lasting positive effect on the brain and leads to a slower loss of volume compared to people with a lack of exercise.

Alcohol and smoking permanently damage the brain

In contrast, high alcohol consumption has a detrimental effect on the structure of the brain. The researchers emphasize that it goes hand in hand with recognizable brain degradation and the loss of nerve cells. In old age, this is partly responsible for lower mental performance and flexibility. Smoking, on the other hand, does not directly affect the brain structure, but changes the brain functions. "It turned out that the so-called functional connectivity, ie the targeted cooperation of brain regions with each other, is higher in the dormant brain than in non-smokers," explains Bittner.

Smoking causes the brain to age faster

"We assume that this will reduce the cognitive reserve among smokers, since the regions in question are already running at full speed and there is no longer any performance buffer available," said the expert. This means that smokers have less brain capacity that is needed, for example, to compensate for aging processes.

Man is a herd animal

"Our research results impressively show that general statements about healthy living are also anatomically and functionally reflected in the brain," summarizes Professor Caspers. It was particularly surprising for the researchers that an intensive or low social life leaves such clear traces in the brain. This gives rise to further studies, for example to find out whether sport in groups has a particularly positive effect on mental performance. (vb)

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