It’s long been suspected that some loss of mental fitness may result from strenuous, repetitive occupations like brick laying. That’s because such work requires huge amounts of physical energy which may leave people too exhausted for other mental activities in their spare time.
Brick layers are in fine company. Winston Churchill used to build brick walls to take his mind off other pressing matters. Of course, Churchill had other notable pastimes such as painting and writing.
Experts on dementia suggest that lack of mental stimulation may lead to a reduction in neural pathways in the brain and this in turn could contribute to the onset of dementias such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
There was a case of a nun who died in her late nineties and her autopsy revealed that her brain was about 97% atrophied with Alzheimer's like lesions. She had continued to teach right up to the and she also had a very positive outlook on life.
the small part of her brain that had continued building efficient neural
pathways was enough to keep her going as an exceptional intellectual
Dementia is a progressive decline caused by brain dysfunction. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia comprising about 2/3 of all cases. The incidence is 2.5% for those aged 65 to 74; 11% for those aged between 75 and 84 years and; 35% for those aged over 85.
It's not certain that mental activities will help protect against the development of dementia but surely it can do no harm to assume that they do. A real sign of success would be a reduction in the higher percentages in the older age brackets.
Combining mental and physical activities can be very beneficial. Tai Chi, for example, calls for great concentration in remembering the right moves whilst developing excellent balance and muscle control.
Activities that may help to add neural pathways and improve mental fitness include puzzles of all kinds; reading; card games; knitting; learning a foreign language; learning to play a musical instrument and; all kinds of social interaction such as volunteering.
And yes, bricklaying would be wonderful too as long as you can find the energy and time for some variety in mental stimulation.