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Researchers at Harvard Medical School analyzed post-death brain tissue and compared that with the tissue of centenarians (people at least age 100) to those who died in their 60s and 70s.
The study found that those who died at younger ages had lower levels of a protein called REST (RE-1 Silencing Transcription), which quiets brain activity.
Excessive activity in the brain is linked to shorter life spans, while suppressing such overactivity extends life, according to the study published Oct. 16 in Nature.
The study is based on findings from human brains, mice and worms.
According to previous studies, REST can protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
The findings “could have such far-ranging consequences for physiology and life span,” Bruce Yanker, genetics and neurology professor at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.
Yanker says scientists are still working to identify how drugs that target the REST protein could treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
You can read more about the study published in the journal Nature.