Passion, exercise, and social connections are resources for brain health

In a recent article, researchers looked at studies linking three key lifestyle factors to brain health. In a recent article, researchers looked at studies linking exercise, relationships, and passion to brain health. They found reasonable evidence that these three factors provide protection against cognitive decline. They note that randomized controlled trials are needed to confirm their findings. Changes in cognitive function during the aging process are related to the volume of white and gray matter in the brain.

Gray matter is made up of biological structures including neuronal cell bodies, synapses and capillaries while white matter is made up of myelinated axons, through which signals are transmitted between neurons. The volume of gray matter decreases on a regular basis around the age of 10. Research suggests that people in good medical and cognitive health experience less brain atrophy than people in poor health. Studies also show that regular exercise, strong relationships, and passion are key to maintaining a healthy brain during the aging process.

In a recent paper, the researchers conducted an extensive review of all available literature on the link between physiological brain development and physical activity, social relationships and passion. Based on the evidence, they report that a greater passion for an area or skill leads to more physical activity, more social relationships, and better well-being.

Through this research, they found that passion, or a strong interest, can be a key motivator for success and well-being because it determines the direction of the arrow. Therefore, the researchers state: find your passion and develop it! Gut, or perseverance, is the size and strength of the arrow. Find your area of ​​interest and focus on the process.

The article was recently published in a special issue of Brain Sciences.

Physical activity

Observational studies indicate that an active lifestyle helps maintain cognitive and neurological health in all age groups, especially in higher order processes such as switching from one activity to another, working memory and inhibition cognitive. The researchers noted in their paper that intervention studies confirmed these findings.

For example, seniors who did an hour-long aerobic workout three times a week for six months saw an increase in gray matter and white matter volume compared to controls.
Other research shows that physical activity increases the functionality of areas of the brain related to attention and attention control, activities of daily living and cognitive reserve, a reserve of thinking ability that acts as a buffer against cognitive decline. age related.


The new paper references studies suggesting that maintaining social connections improves cognitive reserve through cognitive strategies, increased neuronal growth and synaptic density, which protect against pathological processes. Imaging studies have shown that greater social networks are linked to a greater volume of the orbitofrontal cortex, which is involved in decision making, and the amygdala. These studies also show that less socially active people have a higher number of white matter lesions.

Furthermore, randomized controlled trials have shown that social relationships can improve cognitive reserve, and interventions have shown that greater social interaction in communities is linked to better cognitive function and greater brain volume. Other studies, however, indicate no link between social relationships and cognitive function later in life. The researchers therefore suggest that stronger evidence from randomized controlled trials is needed to prove causation.


In their paper, the researchers define passion as: a strong feeling towards a personally important value / preference that motivates intentions and behaviors aimed at expressing that value / preference.

Other research has shown that passion is linked to more deliberate practice among soccer players and better well-being and performance among workers. The researchers also noted that passion could therefore be important in maintaining neural plasticity.

An example of this is someone who is passionate about learning new languages. Researchers wrote that passion could motivate a person to practice their second language more and thus strengthen gray matter, neural cells, and connections. They also noted that psychological traits such as courage and growth mindset have also been linked to the development of gray matter in different parts of the brain.

The researchers also cited a number of articles that suggest that impaired motor function, antisocial behavior, depression and anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure) are common in neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders and the natural aging process.

They then suggested that a “vicious circle” might be at play: reduced physical activity could promote less social engagement and less well-being. Passion gives direction to the area of ​​interest, which may be related to the dopamine system, which is central to attention, learning, goal-directed behaviors, and rewards. Passion can provide the essential focus for achieving long-term goals.

Underlying mechanisms

When asked how physical activity, socialization and passion improve brain health, the researchers in charge of the study say:

“We know more about the mechanisms underlying physical activity than social interactions or learning new skills, because there are decades of literature on the effects of physical activity on brain health, learning and memory, as there are excellent animal models for physical activity (often running with rodents). “Animal literature suggests a range of brain changes associated with physical activity, including new neurons in brain regions that support memory, multiple connections between neurons (called synapses) and an increase in the vascular structure. . Increases in neurotransmitters and nerve growth factors (among other changes) have also been associated with increased physical activity in animal models. “

The researchers concluded that exercise, social interactions and passion are essential for maintaining brain health.

* Presse Santé is committed to transmitting health knowledge in a language accessible to all. IN NO EVENT, the information provided cannot replace the advice of a healthcare professional.

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