Researchers at Harvard Medical School looked at the brains of people who had died in their 60s and 70s – compared to those who had died over the age of 100.
The study, published in the journal Nature, found that people who died at an earlier age had lower levels of the protein known as REST (RE-1 Silencing Transcription)
That protein helps to quiet down brain activity.
The brain tissue of people who had lived to 100 had more of this protein, which reportedly reacts to genes which are known to spark the brain when thinking.
Previous studies have also found that REST can help protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
The report’s lead author, Prof. Bruce Yankner, said in a statement that the data “could have such far-ranging consequences for physiology and life span.”
Currently, it is not possible to measure REST in a living brain.
To test their findings in human brains, the Harvard team used worms and mice – increasing and decreasing their brain activity.
They found the same results. Creatures that did not have REST in their brain tissue died at a much fast rate.
“The completely shocking and puzzling thing about this new paper is… brain activity is what you think of as keeping you cognitively normal. There’s the idea that you want to keep your brain active in later life,” neuroscientist Michael McConnell said, via Science Alert.
Despite that common perception of keeping your brain active to stay healthy, this new study may have some people choosing to take it easy – rather than “think too hard” about this subject.