Exercise the body to keep the brain healthy, study suggests

October 22, 2012

People who exercise later in life may better protect their brain from age-related changes than those who do not, a study suggests.

Researchers found that people over 70 who took regular exercise showed less brain shrinkage over a three-year period than those who did little exercise.

Psychologists and Neuroimaging experts, based at the University of Edinburgh, did not find there to be any benefit to brain health for older people from participation in social or mentally stimulating activities.

Greater brain shrinkage is linked to problems with memory and thinking and the researchers say their findings suggest that exercise is potentially one important pathway to maintaining a healthy brain both in terms of size and reducing damage.

The researchers also examined the brain's white matter - the wiring that transmits messages round the brain. They found that people over 70 who were more physically active had fewer 'damaged' areas - visible as abnormal areas on scanning - in the white matter than those who did little exercise.

Additionally, the researchers from the University of Edinburgh found that the over-70s taking regular exercise had more grey matter - the parts of the brain with nerve cell bodies.

The Edinburgh team used MRI scans to measure the volume of brain tissue and the volume and health of the brain's white matter in almost 700 people.

They studied levels of physical activity which ranged from moving only for necessary housework to more strenuous forms of exercise such as keep-fit or taking part in competitive sports.

Scientists also recorded whether or not the participants - all aged over 70 - took part in mentally stimulating activities such reading and participating in social groups.

Dr Alan Gow of the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology who led the research, said: "Our results suggest that to maintain brain health, physical activity may be more beneficial than choosing more sedentary activities. We are excited by the next stages of this research as we seek to understand more about what might underlie the effect, but in the meantime, increasing physical activity - even a short walk each day - can only be encouraged."

Professor James Goodwin, Head of Research at Age UK who fund the Disconnected Mind research project, said: "This research is exciting as it provides vital clues as to what impacts the way our brain ages and how we could tackle mental decline. If we can establish definitively that exercise provides protection against mental decline, it could open the door to exercise programmes tailored to the needs of people as they age.

"We already know that exercise is important in reducing our risk of some illnesses that come with ageing, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. This research reemphasises that it really is never too late to benefit from exercise, so whether it's a brisk walk to the shops, gardening or competing in a fun run it is crucial that, those of us who can, get active as we grow older."
-end-
The study is published today in Neurology, the journal of The American Academy of Neurology and is part of a larger project that is supported by funding from the Age UK (The Disconnected Mind project) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

The study was carried out at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Epidemiology (CCACE), which is funded by the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing programme, a collaboration between the UK's Research Councils and Health Departments which is led by the MRC (www.mrc.ac.uk/LLHW), and at the University's Brain Research Imaging Centre (www.bric.ed.ac.uk).

University of Edinburgh

Related Physical Activity Articles from Brightsurf:

Physical activity in the morning could be most beneficial against cancer
The time of day when we exercise could affect the risk of cancer due to circadian disruption, according to a new study with about 3,000 Spanish people  

Physical activity and sleep in adults with arthritis
A new study published in Arthritis Care & Research has examined patterns of 24-hour physical activity and sleep among patients with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and knee osteoarthritis.

Regular physical activity seems to enhance cognition in children who need it most
Researchers at the Universities of Tsukuba and Kobe re-analyzed data from three experiments that tested whether physical activity interventions lead to improved cognitive skills in children.

The benefits of physical activity for older adults
New findings published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports reveal how physically active older adults benefit from reduced risks of early death, breast and prostate cancer, fractures, recurrent falls, functional limitations, cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and depression.

Physical activity may protect against new episodes of depression
Increased levels of physical activity can significantly reduce the odds of depression, even among people who are genetically predisposed to the condition.

Is physical activity always good for the heart?
Physical activity is thought to be our greatest ally in the fight against cardiovascular disease.

Physical activity in lessons improves students' attainment
Students who take part in physical exercises like star jumps or running on the spot during school lessons do better in tests than peers who stick to sedentary learning, according to a UCL-led study.

Physical activity may attenuate menopause-associated atherogenic changes
Leisure-time physical activity is associated with a healthier blood lipid profile in menopausal women, but it doesn't seem to entirely offset the unfavorable lipid profile changes associated with the menopausal transition.

Are US adults meeting physical activity guidelines?
The proportion of US adults adhering to the 'Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans' from the US Department of Health and Human Services didn't significantly improve between 2007 and 2016 but time spent sitting increased.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds do less vigorous physical activity
Children from disadvantaged backgrounds and certain ethnic minority backgrounds, including from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds, have lower levels of vigorous physical activity, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge.

Read More: Physical Activity News and Physical Activity Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.