Going Back to School May Help People With MS

Education and smart hobbies bolster the brain and preserve thinking ability

Medically reviewed in November 2021

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), there's never been a better reason to hit the books. Research shows that higher education could help you steer clear of the "mental cobwebs" that are common in MS.

In one study published online January 27, 2014 by the journal PLoS One, researchers assessed the thinking abilities of 137 people in different stages of MS and with various educational backgrounds. They gave the participants tests to measure their cognition—including memory, attention, verbal ability and thinking speed—and used MRI scans to check for loss of brain volume, a common result of MS.

Not surprisingly, brain volume loss predicted worse cognition. But the interesting bit is that more years of education predicted better cognition. It seems that higher education makes up for the loss of brain volume due to MS.

The researchers believe that building cognitive reserve through learning activities could play an important role in MS treatment in the future. Cognitive reserve is the brain's ability to cope with disease or injury—a critical aspect of living with MS. Building cognitive reserve also seems to protect against Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. 

Related: How Your Brain Struggles with Warm Weather

Boost your brain by learning
This study and others suggest that MS sufferers could reduce their risk of cognitive impairment by going back to school. But you don't have to get your PhD to protect your brain. Continuing education classes can be a fun way to engage your brain, learn a new skill and make new friends. Learning a foreign language can even help improve your memory.

Not a fan of classrooms? No problem. Mentally stimulating hobbies have also been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Try these other smart options:

  • Max out your library card. Reading is one of the best activities for your brain. Get hooked on an exciting who-done-it, live vicariously through an outrageous autobiography or get swept away by a romantic vampire saga. You can also keep a reading list of books you want to read next and challenge yourself to read more books every year.
  • Bust out the game board. Playing board games has also been shown to help keep your mind sharp. Plus, it's a great way to spend time with family and friends. So dust off the Monopoly board, grab some healthy snacks and enjoy game night once a week.
  • Have a jam session. It can also help to challenge your brain with intense artistic hobbies, like playing a musical instrument, writing, dancing or painting. Music can also relieve stress and prevent dementia.

To get the best result over the long haul, practice these leisurely activities regularly. Think of it as exercise for your brain!

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