Exercise may be best way to protect against brain shrinkage

November, 2012

A large study of older adults shows that physical exercise is associated with less brain atrophy and fewer white matter lesions. A small study shows that frail seniors benefit equally from exercise.

A study using data from the Lothian Birth Cohort (people born in Scotland in 1936) has analyzed brain scans of 638 participants when they were 73 years old. Comparing this data with participants’ earlier reports of their exercise and leisure activities at age 70, it was found that those who reported higher levels of regular physical activity showed significantly less brain atrophy than those who did minimal exercise. Participation in social and mentally stimulating activities, on the other hand, wasn’t associated with differences in brain atrophy.

Regular physical exercise was also associated with fewer white matter lesions. While leisure activity was also associated with healthier white matter, this was not significant after factors such as age, social class, and health status were taken into account.

Unfortunately, this study is reported in a journal to which I don’t have access. I would love to have more details about the leisure activities data and the brain scans. However, although the failure to find a positive effect of stimulating activities is disappointing, it’s worth noting another recent study, that produced two relevant findings. First, men with high levels of cognitive activity showed a significant reduction in white matter lesions, while women did not. Women with high levels of cognitive activity, on the other hand, showed less overall brain atrophy — but men did not.

Secondly, both genders showed less atrophy in a particular region of the prefrontal cortex, but there was no effect on the hippocampus — the natural place to look for effects (and the region where physical exercise is known to have positive effects).

In other words, the positive effects of cognitive activity on the brain might be quite different from the positive effects of physical exercise.

The findings do, of course, add to the now-compelling evidence for the benefits of regular physical activity in fighting cognitive decline.

It’s good news, then, that a small study has found that even frail seniors can derive significant benefits from exercise.

The study involved 83 older adults (61-89), some of whom were considered frail. Forty-three took part in group exercises (3 times a week for 12 weeks), while 40 were wait-listed controls. Participants were assessed for physical capacity, quality of life and cognitive health a week before the program began, and at the end.

Those who took part in the exercise program significantly improved their physical capacity, cognitive performance, and quality of life. These benefits were equivalent among frail and non-frail participants.

Frailty is associated with a higher risk of falls, hospitalizations, cognitive decline and psychological distress, and, of course, increases with age. In the U.S, it’s estimated that 7% of seniors aged 65 to 74, 18% of those aged 75 to 84, and 37% of seniors over the age of 85 are frail.

Reference: 

Related News

Brain scans of 9,772 people aged 44 to 79, who were enrolled in the UK Biobank study, have revealed that smoking, high blood pressure, high pulse pressure, diabetes, and high BMI — but not high cholesterol — were all linked to greater brain shrinkage, less

A large Chinese study involving 20,000 people has found that the longer people were exposed to air pollution, the worse their cognitive performance in verbal and math tests. The effect of air pollution on verbal tests became more pronounced with age, especially for men and the less educated.

A review of 34 longitudinal studies, involving 71,244 older adults, has concluded that depression is associated with greater cognitive decline.

A study following nearly 28,000 older men for 20 years has found that regular consumption of leafy greens, dark orange and red vegetables and berry fruits, and orange juice, was associated with a lower risk of memory loss.

Poor sleep has been associated with the development of Alzheimer's disease, and this has been thought to be in part because the protein amyloid beta increases with sleep deprivation. A new study explains more.

A small study has found that a 12-week exercise program significantly improved cognition in both older adults with

A clinical trial involving 9361 older adults (50+) with hypertension but without diabetes or history of stroke has found that intensive control of blood pressure significantly reduced the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment.

Survey data from 6,807 Danish older adults (average age 60) in the Copenhagen City Heart Study, has found that being distressed in late midlife is associated with a higher risk of dementia in later life.

Poor sleep has been associated with Alzheimer's disease risk, but a new study suggests a specific aspect of sleep is important.

Data from 1,215 older adults, of whom 173 (14%) were African-American, has found that, although brain scans showed no significant differences between black and white participants,

Pages

Subscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest health newsSubscribe to Latest news