According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers have found that Indigenous populations in lowland Bolivia may hold the key to healthy brain aging. The study, which focused on the Tsimané and Mosetén tribes, found that an optimal balance between food consumption and exercise could reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

UC Santa Barbara professor of anthropology, Michael Gurven, said that while energy gain from food intake was positively associated with late-life brain health in the physically active, food-limited world of our ancestors, obesity and other manifestations of a Western lifestyle now lead to greater cognitive aging and dementia in middle and older ages.

The study enrolled 1,165 Tsimané and Mosetén adults, aged 40–94 years, and provided them transportation from their remote villages to the closest hospital with a CT scanner. Brain volume was accurately measured from the CT scans, and participants’ body mass index, blood pressure, total blood cholesterol, and other biomarkers of cardiometabolic health were also measured.

The researchers found that the fastest brain aging occurred in the U.S. and European cohorts, while the Tsimané and Mosetén experienced slower brain aging. The study also found that Indigenous groups had improved cardiovascular health compared to industrialized populations in the U.S. and Europe.

Andrei Irimia, assistant professor in the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, said that the environment of limited food availability played a role in the brain and cardiovascular fitness of non-industrial societies. Humans historically spent a lot of time exercising out of necessity to find food, and their brain aging profiles reflected this lifestyle.

In conclusion, the study suggests that an optimal balance between food consumption and exercise can reduce the risk of cognitive decline, and Indigenous populations in lowland Bolivia may provide insight into how to achieve this balance.

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