Exercising in your 70s 'may stop brain shrinkage'

Older cyclist Regular exercise protects the brain, experts suspect

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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."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Its a combination of different things (e.g. genetics, life style, exercise). Exercise may not work on some but work on others, just like statins or any kind of drugs.They're call "non-responders", thats y docs changes patients meds (one reason).We're all born with a set number of years and it is how we look after ourselves that determine how long we live.Regular exercise n cut down fats wil help

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    4.Balloon Rake - "This is a waste of research by these so called overpaid "experts"............"

    To state that you must know:

    A/. How much they are paid

    B/. A justification for why it is too much

    Do enlighten us......if you have any relevant information, rather then supposition based on gut instinct...???

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Once again, everything in moderation, walking is very good, decent home cooked food - five a day and I still think Su Doku and crosswords, scrabble bridge etc are good for the brain. Dogs mean exercise, I have six of them they are all fit. Me 65.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Exercising at any age is far mor exciting than than sitting on a couch watching TV. Exercise doesn't have to be done in a gym. Get out into the wide world and live your life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I'm determined to remain active in old age - I was recently beaten in a 10k race by an 80 year old!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    This is a waste of research by these so called overpaid "experts", it's the way of life that counts not excercise. People in their 70s in the likes of hot European countries like Italy, Spain, etc, have very active brains due to the climate and good food (they also look so much younger than they really are too), it's the British diet that causes brain shrinkage, not lack of excerise

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    may stop shriking,so when you and me a taking a gentle stroll down the short to memory lane our brains MAY stop shrinking

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    well my husband and I are both well past 70, I exercise, walking, he does not due to physical problems.. His brain is far more active and he remembers far more than I do!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Correlation is not causation. For all we know, people who have less brain shrinkage want to exercise more. A point buried inside the article.


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