Exercise Does WHAT to Your Brain?It's time to hit the treadmill! People who exercise regularly not only have larger brains, but also a lower risk of developing dementia, according to researchers from UCLA and Boston University.
In particular, regular physical activity affects the size of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that controls short-term memory. This protective effect is strongest in those aged 75 and older.
And the opposite also holds true: Low physical activity leads to a higher risk for dementia.
The study: Led by Zaldy Tan of UCLA, the researchers used data from the landmark Framingham Heart Study to assess how physical activity affects the size of the brain and someone's risk for developing dementia. Begun in 1948, the Framingham Heart Study was a way to trace factors and characteristics leading to cardiovascular disease, as well as examine dementia and other physiological conditions. For this study, the UCLA researchers followed an older, community-based cohort from the Framingham study for more than a decade to examine the association between physical activity and the risk for incident dementia and subclinical brain MRI markers of dementia.
The researchers assessed the physical activity indices for both the original Framingham cohort and their offspring who were age 60 and older. They examined the association between physical activity and risk of any form of dementia (regardless of the cause) and Alzheimer's disease for 3,700 participants from both cohorts who were cognitively intact. They also examined the association between physical activity and brain MRI in about 2,000 participants from the offspring cohort.
The results: The UCLA researchers found an association between low physical activity and a higher risk for dementia in older individuals, suggesting that regular physical activity for older adults could lead to higher brain volumes and a reduced risk for developing dementia.
The takeaway: You are never too old to exercise for brain health and to stave off the risk for developing dementia.
The study findings were published in the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.
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