A new study led by scientists Joseph Zullo and Derek Drake from Harvard Medical School indicates that the nervous system may play an unexpected role in aging. While it seems counterintuitive, the study suggests that limiting brain activity may actually promote a longer life span and work as a natural life extender.
Although this is a preliminary study that requires further research, it shines light on the importance of using behavioral interventions to slow down brain activity and possibly boost longevity.
Zullo and his colleagues first studied brain tissue from hundreds of aged humans that had not shown any cognitive deficits before death. They found that genes involved in neural excitation, or increased brain activity, were downregulated in the individuals who lived longest.
This may be linked to a protein called REST (RE1-Silencing Transcription factor), according to the researchers. Here’s what you need to know about REST:
This latest study indicates that increased REST is directly associated with long human life span. This is due to REST’s ability to reduce neural excitement by blocking the expression of neural genes.
How did scientists prove this? They started by testing this theory on roundworms and found that neural activity increased with aging.
On top of that, interventions that reduced neural excitement worked to extend roundworm life span.
The same appeared to be true in mice, which they also studied. Mice lacking REST were more likely to display neural excitation.
The results of this study suggest that maintaining a proper balance in brain activity may prevent age-related neurological diseases and improve longevity in humans.
Brain activity is measured by the network of neurons (nerve cells) that are activated when we perform various cognitive tasks. Our brains switch between resting and active states throughout the day, depending on our actions.
There are several methods to measure brain activity, including:
But measuring REST is not yet possible in living human brains. This is why scientists began their experiments on roundworms and mice for this study.
They were then able to test their findings on donated brains from deceased humans.
Now to further understand the role of REST and brain activity in longevity, scientists will begin to make connections between brain imaging, the function of brain cells and human behaviors.
According to this most recent study, differences in brain activity can be linked to longevity. Researchers found that overactivity isn’t good for the brain.
When neurons are constantly firing off because of increased brain activity, it may take a toll.
When people engage in harder tasks, more regions of the brain are activated. Studies suggest that to complete the same task, older adults activate more brain circuits than younger individuals.
Scientists don’t know for sure why this happens, but it may be because brains of older people are less efficient and overcompensate due to that inefficiency.
From this study, drug research will be conducted to figure out if excessive neural activity can be reduced in aging individuals. Scientists also believe that certain habits and behaviors can affect the brain’s neural activity and possibly boost longevity.
Some activities that can support brain health by reducing brain activity include:
Although we’ve been told that increasing brain activity helps to boost cognitive function, this study suggests otherwise. It seems as though balance is really key, as practitioners of Eastern medicine have always believed.