Exercising in your 70s 'may stop brain shrinkage'

Older cyclist Regular exercise protects the brain, experts suspect

Related Stories

Exercising in your 70s may stop your brain from shrinking and showing the signs of ageing linked to dementia, say experts from Edinburgh University.

Brain scans of 638 people past the age of retirement showed those who were most physically active had less brain shrinkage over a three-year period.

Exercise did not have to be strenuous - going for a walk several times a week sufficed, the journal Neurology says.

But giving the mind a workout by doing a tricky crossword had little impact.

The study found no real brain-size benefit from mentally challenging activities, such as reading a book, or other pastimes such as socialising with friends and family.

Start Quote

More research is also needed to tease out how physical activity might be having a beneficial effect”

End Quote Dr Simon Ridley Alzheimer's Research UK

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.

And they had more grey matter - the parts of the brain where the messages originate.

Experts already know that our brains tend to shrink as we age and that this shrinkage is linked to poorer memory and thinking.

And previous studies have shown that exercise helps reduce the risk of dementia and can slow down its onset.

But scientists are still baffled about why this is.

'Never too late'

Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, delivering oxygen and nutrients to brain cells, which may be important.

Or it may be that as people's brains shrink, they become less inclined to exercise.

Regardless of why, experts say the findings are good news because exercise is an easy thing to do to boost health.

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "This study links physical exercise to fewer signs of ageing in the brain, suggesting that it may be a way of protecting our cognitive health.

"While we can't say that exercise is the causal factor in this study, we do know that exercise in middle age can lower the risk of dementia later in life.

"It will be important to follow these volunteers to see whether these structural features are associated with greater cognitive decline over the coming years. More research is also needed to tease out how physical activity might be having a beneficial effect."

Prof James Goodwin, head of research at Age UK, the charity that provided the funding for the research, said: "This research re-emphasises that it really is never too late to benefit from exercise, so whether it's a brisk walk to the shops, gardening or competing in a fun run it is crucial that, those of us who can, get active as we grow older."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    I have my doubts that this is true. My father who has always walked and kept healthy and in his mid 70's still walks several times a day has memory loss, and yet my mother, who has never been partial to exercise and now uses a trolley to walk with, is still as sharp as a pin. So much for that theory!

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Exercise is GOOD for you at any age. There is so much evidence for this, for instance resistance training slows osteoporosis in later life.

    Nothing is a guarantee, you can only hope that every little helps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    I appreciate some of the skeptics in relation to word "May", but simply anti-exercise comments - are these people serious!
    I regularly cycle with many people in their 70s & 80s who seem to continue to defy the aging process both physically and mentally & I see 1st hand that it isn't having any negative effect.
    Take the exercise and if they find a link, brilliant, if they don't what have you lost?

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Surely just common sense.

    The human body did not evolve to be sedentary, so regular exercise must be necessary for it's general well-being, and it's likely that the brain will benefit as much as any other organ.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    In my late 30s I got into the habit of running for about half an hour first thing in the morning. That way there's no problem about finding the time as you pull on the kit and go straight out. If I felt rough I knew that half an hour in bed would make no difference but I'd feel a lot better after a few miles. I'm now in my 60s and still doing it.


Comments 5 of 7


More Health stories



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.