As we get older, one of the best ways to keep our brains sharp is by moving our bodies, researchers claim in a new study.
University of Edinburgh researchers found that for people over 70 years old, regular exercise slowed down brain shrinkage -- which is associated with memory and cognitive problems -- over a period of three years, compared to people who did little exercise. Plus the exercisers had fewer "damaged" areas in their brain's white matter and more grey matter, the parts of the brain with nerve cell bodies, than those subjects who weren't as active.
To reach their findings, the team used MRI scans to measure the volume of brain tissue and the health of the brain's white matter in nearly 700 people, according to a press release on Monday.
"Our results suggest that to maintain brain health, physical activity may be more beneficial than choosing more sedentary activities," says lead researcher Dr. Alan Gow. Until more work can be done to further understand the effect of exercise on the brain, Gow adds that for now, "increasing physical activity -- even a short walk each day -- can only be encouraged."
"We already know that exercise is important in reducing our risk of some illnesses that come with ageing, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer," adds Dr. James Goodwin, head of research at Age UK, which funded the project. "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."
The findings were published Tuesday, October 23, in the journal Neurology.