Stop thinking so hard, you might die earlier: study

Long live the lazy and idle-minded.

A new study reveals that too much brain activity as we age may lead to a shorter life span, contrary to the widely held belief that staying mentally active into old age helps keep the brain spry.

The surprising results come from a new report in the journal Nature, by researchers who analyzed post-death brain tissue. They compared the tissue of centenarians to those who died in their 60s and 70s.

The team from Harvard Medical School found that, compared to those who lived longest, those who died at younger ages had lower levels of a protein that quiets brain activity. The protein, RE1-Silencing Transcription (REST), can protect against Alzheimer’s disease, according to previous studies.

The findings “could have such far-ranging consequences for physiology and life span,” Bruce Yanker, genetics and neurology professor at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.

Yanker is currently studying how drugs that target the protein could treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s, or aging itself. But scientists still don’t know exactly how it relates to life span.

To better understand that relationship, scientists worked with mice and worms, since it’s not currently possible to measure REST in living humans. They tinkered with REST levels in worms to find that those who had more of it exhibited busier brains and also lived longer; conversely, when researchers cut the supply of REST in Methuselah roundworms, which are known for having unusually long life spans, they experienced increased neural activity and died much sooner than usual. Additionally, mice who lacked REST had more active minds with unusual spikes in brain activity similar to seizures.

According to Yanker, their research could also reveal potential benefits of other activities which impact neural rhythms, such as meditation, which he says might help treat memory loss.

“An exciting future area of research will be to determine how these findings relate to such higher-order human brain functions,” he said.

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