Keeping the Brain Young… with Exercise?

by Wellness Editor – MH

Generally speaking, people start to exercise for two reasons – to build up muscle mass, or to shed unwanted pounds. According to a 2016 study, physical activity might also prove useful for the minds of older adults.

This research comes courtesy of the Northern Manhattan Study, and appeared in the American Academy of Neurology’s online journal. The authors documented both the exercise levels and cognitive abilities of 876 adults. Specifically, each participant detailed their exercise habits over the preceding two weeks; years later, the participants underwent testing designed to measure both thinking and memory capabilities.

Too Many Couch Potatoes

The adults were separated based on their exercise levels; those who never exercised or engaged in light activities (such as walking and yoga) were placed in the “low activity” group. Alternatively, subjects in the “high activity” group followed exercise regimens that featured running, aerobics, or calisthenics. The low activity grouping encompassed ninety percent of the study participants.

At the onset of the study, the authors directed their focus on adults with no discernible thinking/memory issues. Over five years, those who were more reluctant to exercise fared worse on follow-up testing than adults in the “high activity” group. The gap between the two groups was significant, equivalent to roughly a decade of cognitive aging.

Building a Better Mind

To test the validity of their findings, the research team considered a number of factors that could impact testing, including smoking, alcohol consumption and body mass index. Even with this information added to the mix, the gap between the two groups continued to persist.

Based on his team’s findings, study author Clinton B. Wright contends that increased physical activity could allow the brain to function better as it ages. However, he also cautioned that it is too early to draw conclusions on this matter. “Our results suggest that moderate to intense exercise may help older people delay aging of the brain, but more research from randomized clinical trials comparing exercise programs to more sedentary activity is needed to confirm these results” stated Wright.

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