SUNDAY, Nov. 25, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Reading, writing and playing cards and board games may be more than just fun pastimes, they may also help aging brains stay healthy, researchers say.
These types of mental activities appear to help preserve structural integrity in the brains of older people, according to Konstantinos Arfanakis and colleagues from Rush University Medical Center and Illinois Institute of Technology, in Chicago.
The researchers used MRI to scan the brains of 152 people, average age 81, in order to assess the effects of mental activity on the brain's white matter, which is composed of nerve fibers that transmit information throughout the brain.
There was a significant association between frequent mental activities and structural integrity in several areas of white matter in the brain, the investigators found.
The study was scheduled for presentation Sunday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, in Chicago.
"Reading the newspaper, writing letters, visiting a library, attending a play or playing games, such as chess or checkers, are all simple activities that can contribute to a healthier brain," Arfanakis said in a society news release.
While this study found an association between mental activity in seniors and structural integrity of the brain's white matter, it didn't prove that one causes the other. The researchers want to continue following the patients in this study in order to determine if that is the case, Arfanakis said.
The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging offers healthy aging tips.