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
    0

    Comment number 50.

    This shows the effects of exercise on people who choose to exercise rather than those who have exercise imposed upon them. Doesn't this simply mean that because your brain is shrinking at a slower rate you continue to exercise? Those whose brains shrink faster become apathetic and less inclined to take exercise. Perhaps a study looking at exercise regimen for the elderly is required.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 49.

    @ 33. Chander Hingorani
    " For over 70s, a free membership of the Gym." I had a paid membership in a gym but had to give up going there as the music [noise] played over the sound system was so awful [talentless modern beat pop] I had to give up going. I'm 73 with severe arthritis - I could have done with keeping up the exercise but the cult of the young drove me out.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 48.

    Exercise is also known to reduce the rate of shrinkage of grey matter in multiple sclerosis (amongst its many other positive effects).

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 47.

    What UK lack are mechanisms why it happens rather than the obvious e.g. exercise and dont sit down for long periods is good for us. Research money for these crucial studies are being cut although large amount of funds are being pumped into "big" studies that confirms what we know. ppl can be v fit e.g. footballers and then drop dead next minute, y? y that day and not the week before? e.g. Muamba

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 46.

    The relevant word in the headline is "MAY".
    There is no doubt exercise reduces a lot of other ills the older person is prey to. And you don't have to exercise hard enough to injure yourself, regular walking is sufficient.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 45.

    Interesting! A few years ago at 75 I experienced some vertigo and to rule out a brain tumor I had a scan. It turned out that I had a benign inner ear problem BPPV but I was told that my brain was unusually good for my age. I keep very active on a daily basis and still cut and heat our large home by wood. As well my weight is excellent but I'm listed for new knees.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 44.

    There's a saying in Science/Health, "If you dont use it, you lose it". I think that answers a lot of questions here. In addition to my earlier post, many other factors they have not taken into account like ethnic background. There are villages in so called "third-world" countries where people lives to high 90s/100. why? no preservatives, less stress, fresh air, work in fields, no tvs, no xbox etc

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 43.

    33.Chander Hingorani "exercise should be made compulsory"
    A gross infringement of people's basic civil liberties And how would you enforce it: fines? jail?
    31.Nick Weeks "depressing news for those in our 50's who have developed physical problems"
    See 33 above. To these zealots, anyone who can't 'exercise' is dead weight & of no further use to society (esp if fat as a result of disability).

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 42.

    More wisdom from The Ministery of the Bl**dy obvious!

    Off course exercise and keeping generally fit helps one.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 41.

    Contrary to popular belief, exercise is not a magic bullet but comes with its own set of problems such as injuries, joint issues etc. Moreover those in the upper BMI categories have been shown to have more resilience to conditions of old age ('obesity paradox'). Dementia remains poorly understood but there are obvious benefits for the lifestyle police if they can convince us it is self-inflicted.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 40.

    So let me get this right as you get older your brain shrinks.

    And
    The Conservatives Have their greatest support amongst the over 70's

  • rate this
    +6

    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.

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 38.

    Many old people sit at home watching TV but could be active doing things in the community. The state pension should be replaced with workfare for the good of the elderly and the national debt.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 37.

    Excercise feeds the brain with blood and oxygen, which is good, but I think what also helps is choosing a sport which a) requires creative thought in order to keep the connections firing, and b) produces not just strength, but balance and co-ordination, which helps with motor-control as we age. Dancing or choreo-aerobics are good examples.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 36.

    This research ( I haven't read the paper yet) is consistent with the idea of providing an environment of well-being such that the elderly have enough money to eat well,keep warm,have social and medical care,security of home and ability to take part in society. Good moral values, good economics of prevention.
    So lets respect the elderly and stop blaming them for living too long, Cameron!

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 35.

    Well my gran runs about a mile a day too. She left home 3 months ago and we haven't seen or heard from her since.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 34.

    Not everybody can get around very easily, mind. Exercise helps your body, but mental testing helps your mind. My grandma is 88 and regularly does crosswords, she's as sharp as a knife. Her nearest park is at the end of her road but it is a busy road with no crossing and she is not too keen on going out on her own around open areas. Many would like to exercise, but sometimes it is not possible.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 33.

    Absolutely. I could not agree more. I think exercise should be made compulsory under NHS and itt will save millions if not billions. Better to go for a walk than sit all day in front of the Box watching junk programmes. For over 70s, a free membership of the Gym.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 32.

    Had a gym over fifty years ago the motto "Mens sana in corpore sano" ."A sound mind in a sound body." the body is OK but friends and family are not sure about the mind

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 31.

    Slightly depressing news for those of us in our 50's who have developed physical problems that make walking and other aerobic activities difficult!

 

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