Guess what, worriers? All your fretting may actually be protecting your brain. That's right: People who spend a lot of time obsessing over their problems appear to be less likely to develop dementia, according to new research.
Take that, you Pollyannas!
Ramit Ravona-Springer of Sheba Medical College in Israel and her colleagues studied 1,715 Israeli male civil servants who participated in a long-term study probing risk factors for heart disease. Those who reported a tendency to "ruminate" about problems at work or at home when they were in their 40s and 50s were significantly less likely to develop dementia by the time they were in their 80s, Ravona-Springer reported yesterday at an Alzheimer's conference in Chicago. "Rumination" was defined as the tendency to repetitively mull over problems.
Of those who reported when they were middle-aged that they always forgot work problems quickly, 24 percent developed dementia, compared with just 19 percent of those who said they only "tended" to let go of job worries easily. And just 15 percent of those who said they "tended to" or "usually" ruminated over their jobs saw their mental acuity fade. The numbers were about the same -- 21 percent, 18 percent and 14 percent -- for worrying about family issues.
When the researchers combined all the numbers, they calculated that the biggest worriers were about 42 percent less likely to develop dementia than the care-free.
Ravona-Springer says she and her colleagues were surprised by the findngs because neurotic people tend to be more prone to dementia. While researchers have no idea why fretting might be protective, she speculated that it could be that worrying is a kind of exercise for the mind that keeps it spry. A growing body of evidence indicates that remaining mentally active can help keep the mind from fading. Or it could be that a certain kind of worrying that results in problem-solving and positive action reduces depression and anxiety, protecting against dementia.
So, if you're not a big worrier, maybe you should start worrying about that. And your job. And your kids. And your finances. And... And...
Are you a worrier? What do you fret about most?
July 31, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
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