Here’s a rather surprising finding: Physical exercise appears to do a better job warding off brain shrinkage in the elderly than mental or social activities.
That was the scoop according to a study published last fall in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The finding is important because research indicates that brain shrinkage may lead to problems with memory and thinking.
“People in their 70s who participated in more physical exercise, including walking several times a week, had less brain shrinkage and other signs of aging in the brain than those who were less physically active,” study author Alan J. Gow, with the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, said in a statement.
“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,” he said.
According to a press release from the academy, scientists examined medical records of 638 people from Scotland born in 1936. The participants were given MRI scans at 73 years old.
“The group gave details about their exercise habits, ranging from moving only in connection with necessary household chores to keeping fit with heavy exercise or participating in competitive sports several times per week,” the release said. “They also reported their participation in social and mentally stimulating activities.”
The finding was that after three years, those who did more physical activity had less brain shrinkage than those who exercised minimally.
“Our results show that regularly exercising in old age is potentially important to protecting the brain as we age,” said Gow.
The study was supported by Research Into Aging, the Age UK-funded Disconnected Mind Project and the United Kingdom’s Medical Research Council.