UC biologist: Play bridge for health

The Associated Press
Friday November 10, 2000


Feeling weary? A biologist says playing bridge may be good for the immune system. 

Marian Cleeves Diamond, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, presented research recently showing that an area of the brain involved in playing bridge stimulates the immune system. 

In particular, her research found, playing bridge stimulates the thymus gland — which produces white blood cells that patrol the body in search of viruses and other invaders. 

It is the first time a specific area of the brain’s cortex has been linked with the immune system. 

Diamond, who presented her research this week during the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans, focused on a group of 12 bridge players from Orinda. 

She chose bridge because the game stimulates an area of the brain called the dorsolateral cortex — located behind the forehead — that is involved with issues such as planning ahead and initiative. 

“Bridge players plan ahead, they use working memory, they deal with sequencing, initiation and numerous other higher-order functions with which the dorsolateral cortex is involved,” Diamond said. 

“People are aware that voluntary activities like positive thinking and prayer work to keep us healthy, but no one has had a mechanism. These data, though preliminary, show that brain activity affects the immune system.” 

Diamond’s experiments, which showed players’ immune cells increased after a game of bridge, were the culmination of more than 15 years of work on rat and mouse brains in search of a link between the immune system and the cortical area.