A recent study conducted by Harvard Medical School suggests that slowing down or suppressing the neurons that constantly fire in the brain (basic brain activity) can actually delay the progression of memory loss illnesses like Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
If this seems counterintuitive to you, you are not alone. Geneticist Bruce C of Harvard Medical School was initially given pushback by outside scientists, who were skeptical of his findings. Yankner and his team have been doing research on this issue for years. They have honed in on a gene regulator called REST, which is active in the brain during fetal development and then switches back on later in life to protect aging neurons from various stresses, including the toxic effects of abnormal proteins associated with Alzheimer’s. Yanker and his team showed that REST is lost in critical brain regions of people with Alzheimer’s and Mild Cognitive Impairment.
So, what is the practical implication of this research, exactly?
Taking time to practice things like yoga and mindfulness meditation has been linked to better brain connectivity and less atrophy, or loss of brain cells. One specific type of yoga that has been shown to reduce stress and improve memory is Kirtan Kriya.
Some might call these activities ways to “shut off your brain.” While meditation and relaxing will obviously not completely shut off your brain, they may prevent neurons from becoming over-excited, and will give important genes like REST a much-needed respite.
While more research needs to be done before we can develop specific behavioral or prescription interventions to help prevent Alzheimer’s, it is clear that finding time for peace and relaxation whenever you can has apparent benefits for the brain’s function and longevity.