A New Study Suggests Playing Bridge Can Bid Up Your Immunity
New findings suggest that brainy card games such as contract bridge
may at least temporarily raise production of a key blood cell involved
in fighting off illness. After 90 minutes of play, bridge players had increased
levels of immune cells, according to research reported last week.
Marian Cleeves Diamond, a neuroscientist at the University of California,
Berkeley, presented the findings at the annual meeting of the Society for
Neuroscience in New Orleans.
Diamond studied bridge players from an Orinda, Calif., women's bridge
club. She chose bridge players because the game involves skills stimulating
a part of the brain called the dorsolateral cortex, part of the frontal
lobe that earlier animal research suggests may play a role in the immune
Contract bridge is an ideal activity to study in humans, Diamond said.
Bridge players must plan ahead, use working memory, show initiative, sort
cards and keep many items in sequence--mental challenges involving the
The new findings are based on before-and-after blood samples drawn from
12 bridge players--three foursomes of women in their 70s and 80s. In between
the blood draws, the women played 90 minutes of bridge.
Afterward, the blood samples showed a rise in levels of white blood
cells called T cells, which are produced by the thymus gland and deployed
by the immune system against viruses and other threats. The T cell count
jumped significantly in eight of the bridge players, and slightly in the
The findings add to the burgeoning field of neuroimmunology, whose very
name reflects the fact that the nervous system and the immune system are
no long considered separate and isolated bodily systems, said Ira Black,
chairman of neuroscience and cell biology at Robert Wood Johnson Medical
School in Piscataway, N.J. "Clearly there's an immense amount of crosstalk
between the immune system and the nervous system coming to light."
What isn't clear is whether the apparent boost to the immune system
from an activity like contract bridge is lasting or transient, and whether
the increase in T cells could eventually be targeted against specific illnesses.
The study's findings are preliminary and cannot yet be considered proof
that brain activity can boost the immune system, Diamond noted. But because
the brain's cortex is largely under voluntary control, she said in a statement
released by Berkeley, the results suggest "the possibility of us learning
to voluntarily control the level of white blood cells to help combat disease."