If you’re worried about keeping your brain sharp as you age but have no interest in crossword puzzles, Italian lessons or other brain teasers, there’s some good news out from a new study: being social may be just as good.

Bryan James of the Rush University Medical Center and colleagues studied 1,138 elderly adults who underwent yearly examinations as part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, an ongoing study of chronic conditions that common occur as part of aging.

As part of the study, the subjects answered detailed questions about their social activities, such as how often they went out to restaurants, sporting events, did volunteer work, visited friends and attended church. They also underwent tests to measure their thinking abilities.

After an average of five years, those who were more socially active were less likely to experience a deterioration of their cognitive abilities, the researchers reported in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. On average, those who socialized the most experienced only about one-quarter of the rate of decline in mental powers compared to those who did the least socializing. The researchers took into account other factors that could have played a role, such as age, physical activity and health.

The study did not examine how social activity may play a role in the protecting the brain. But James said that the complex interpersonal activity involved in social activity may exercise key brain circuits.