Exercise Reduces Brain Shrinkage in Old Age
Brain shrinkage is a part of aging. At the age of 20 the adult brain weighs about 1,375 grams, that’s around 3 pounds. But brain weight starts to decline surprisingly early, between the ages of 45 and 50 years, and decreases by about 11 per cent from its maximum weight. Brain shrinkage is important because it is associated with poorer memory and thinking. So if we can do something to help prevent it that has to be good.
Research from one of the UK’s leading universities, Edinburgh, in Scotland, shows that exercise may stop brain shrinkage, even more than puzzles such as crosswords. Reported in the journal Neurology, the study looked at the brain scans of 638 Scots all born in 1936 (73 years old). Over a three year period it was found when they repeated the MRI brain scan. Those who were the most physically active had less brain shrinkage.
When the researchers examined the brain's white matter - the wiring that transmits messages round the brain - they found that the people over the age of 70 who were more physically active had fewer damaged areas than those who did little exercise.
Exercise outweighed the "benefits of participating in mentally and socially stimulating activities on brain size." The study main author, Alan Dow, PhD., says that their 3 year research suggests even mild exercise such as regular walks is good to maintain our brain’s health.
The research suggests that it will be interesting to follow up on this study group to see if the benefits are sustained over a longer time frame.
There have been a number of studies recently showing how we can help ourselves and slow or even prevent the cognitive decline associated with old age. Dorian’s sharepost this month reports that dietary choices may influence the development of mild cognitive impairment.
Stress has also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, as shown in this Sharepost on a study from the University of South Carolina. So it follows that if we can reduce stress it may also help prevent or at least slow down decline in old age.
Alan J. Gow, PhD, et al Neuroprotective lifestyles and the aging brain: Activity, atrophy, and white matter integrity (2012) Neurology