Just like exercise helps your body stay strong, exercising your mind also keeps your brain sharp. And what better way to do just that than by learning another language?
Indeed new research published in Annals of Neurology reveals that people who speak two or more languages -- even those who learned the second language as adults -- may slow down cognitive decline from aging. In the past, it hasn't been clear whether people improve their cognitive functions through learning new languages -- or whether those with better cognitive abilities to begin with are more likely to become bilingual.
“Our study is the first to examine whether learning a second language impacts cognitive performance later in life while controlling for childhood intelligence,” said lead author Dr. Thomas Bak, of the University of Edinburgh, in a press release. "Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain.”
For the study, researchers relied on data from 835 native speakers of English who were born and living in the area of Edinburgh, Scotland. The participants were given an intelligence test in 1947 at age 11 and then again in their early 70s, between 2008 and 2010.
Findings indicate that those who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive abilities compared to what would be expected from their baseline. The strongest effects were seen in general intelligence and reading. The effects were evident no matter when the second language was learned.
After reviewing the study, Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, of the Harvard Medical School in Boston, said in a press release: “The epidemiological study by Dr. Bak and colleagues provides an important first step in understanding the impact of learning a second language and the aging brain. This research paves the way for future causal studies of bilingualism and cognitive decline prevention.”
Another study of bilingualism in 2013 found that bilingual patients suffer dementia onset an average of 4.5 years later than those who speak only one language. A significant difference in age at onset was found across Alzheimer's disease dementia as well as other kinds of dementia.
But adults aren't the only ones who benefit from learning a new language. A study in 2012 found certain brain functions to be enhanced in teens who are fluent in more than one language. Researchers say bilingual youth tend to be better than monolingual kids at multitasking. They also are better at focusing on something, even when there's lots of noise around them.
So what are you waiting for? Scientists say pretty much anyone can learn a new language with one study even suggesting a new word can be learned in less than 15 minutes. So no more excuses!