Exercise May Protect Against Brain Shrinkage
STAYING physically active as
you age, a new study shows, may help protect parts
of your brain from shrinking, a process that has
been linked to declines in thinking and memory
skills. Physical exercise not only protected against
such age-related brain changes, but also had more of
an effect than mentally and socially stimulating
In the new report, published in the journal
Neurology, a team at the University of Edinburgh
followed more than 600 people, starting at age 70.
The subjects provided details on their daily
physical, mental and social activities.
Three years later, using imaging scans, the
scientists found that the subjects who engaged in
the most physical exercise, including walking
several times a week, had less shrinkage and damage
in the brain's white matter, which is considered the
"Wiring" of the brain's communication system.
The relationship remained even after the researchers
controlled for things like age, health status,
social class and IQ.
As far as mental exercise, "we can only say we found
no benefit in our sample," said Dr Alan J. Gow, an
author of the study and a senior research fellow at
He added: "There might be associations earlier in
the life course. Such activities also have important
associations with well-being and quality of life, so
we would certainly agree it is important for older
adults to continue to pursue them."
Because the findings showed only an association, not
a causal relationship, the authors could not rule
out the possibility that people with less
deterioration in their brains were simply more
likely to be physically active.
But they said that based on their findings, they
would advise that people take up physical exercise
"whatever their age.