Making Time for Physical Activity Protects Body, Brain As We Age

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • It’s really easy as we reach middle age to become sedentary. Energy levels can fade, aches can set in, and time commitments can get in the way of best intentions to get to the gym. With that said, scientists are learning that participation in some physical activity can have important health benefits. And when this activity happens while you’re in your middle-age years, you’re also providing important protection to your brain as you age.

    Exhibit 1 is a study conducted by the American Cancer Society, the Cooper Institute and the University of Texas’ School of Public Health that involved 1,304 men between 1981 and 2012. The participants were asked in 1982 to report on the time they were sedentary, such as watching television or time spent riding in the car. The researchers also assessed the participants’ fitness level through a treadmill test that was part of regular medical examinations during the course of the study.

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    The researchers’ analysis found that participants who spent more time being sedentary in general had higher levels of systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol and triglycerides. They also had lower levels of HDL cholesterol (which is considered the good type). Participants who were sedentary also often had a larger body mass index, waist circumference and body fat percentage than those who were active.

    That’s when the study got interesting. When researchers controlled for fitness, they found that sedentary time was only associated with a higher ratio between triglyceride and HDL cholesterol, which is an indicator of insulin resistance. However, sedentary time was not associated with metabolic syndrome, which involves a mass of risk factors. Not surprisingly, the researchers also found that higher fitness levels were linked to a reduced risk of obesity and other metabolism issues.  

    And while we’re at it, two new studies are indicating that being active while in middle age may reduce your risk of developing dementia. In the first study using data from the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, 280 seniors who had a median age of 81 and also had mild cognitive impairment were asked to complete a questionnaire on the frequency and intensity of exercise they took part in during their lifetime. Three years later, researchers determined that participants who taken part in regular moderate physical activity while they were in middle age had a significantly lower risk of seeing their mild cognitive impairment develop into dementia. However, participating in light exercise or vigorous exercise while in middle age wasn’t associated with a decreased risk of mild cognitive impairment developing into dementia. In addition, participating in any level of physical activity later in life also did not show an association with a decreased risk of dementia.

    Another study involved 1,830 older adults with normal cognition who also were part of the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. These participants took part in neurological evaluations and cognitive tests. They also answered a questionnaire about their physical exercise habits in mid-life as well as later in life. Researchers followed these participants for an average of 3.2 years. These researchers found that participating in light physical exercise in both mid-life and late-life was associated with a decreased risk in mild cognitive impairment.

  • So what’s the takeaway from these studies? It’s really important to get up off the couch – or push back from the computer – and add some movement into your life. It can be as easy as setting up some time to dance to a couple of songs on the radio, mow the grass, or climb the stairs a couple of times. This type of activity has long-ranging consequences for both your body and your mind.  And it might just encourage you to be even more active as a result!

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    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Alzheimer’s Association. (2014). Potential Alzheimer’s disease risk factors and risk reduction strategies become clearer.

    American Cancer Association. (2014). Physical fitness associated with less pronounced effect of sedentary behavior.

    Hohman, M. (2014). Exercise may help counter health risks of sedentary lifestyle. MedlinePlus.

    Predit, R. (2014). Staying active may help prevent dementia. MedlinePlus.

Published On: July 21, 2014

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