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Exercise for your brain

23 October 2012

Exercise for your brain

A study has found that physical exercise rather than mind-stretching activities could offer the best protection against developing dementia in later life.

The research looked at 638 Scottish people born in 1936.  They filled in questionnaires at the age of 70 and were given MRI scans at 73. Details were given about exercise habits and recorded social and mentally stimulating activities.

The results showed that after the three years those doing more exercise had less brain shrinkage compared to those who did little physical activity.  They also showed signs that, over the years, fewer brain cells had died.

Previous studies support these findings with results showing that regular exercise can cut the risk of dementia by as much as a third.

Study author Alan Gow, from the University of Edinburgh, said, “People in their seventies who participated in more physical exercise, including walking several times a week, had less brain shrinkage and other signs of ageing in the brain than those who were less physically active.  On the other hand, our study showed no real benefit to participating in mentally and socially stimulating activities on brain size, as seen on MRI scans, over the three-year time frame.”

Professor James Goodwin, head of research at Age UK, which supported the study, said, “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.”

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said, “While we can’t say that exercise is the causal factor in this study, we do know that exercise in middle age can lower the risk of dementia later in life.”