Physical exercise has a far bigger impact on supporting brain health in older people than previously thought. While seniors have been encouraged for years to do “brain activities” such as crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and reading to support cognitive function and memory, a new study points out that it’s physical exercise that helps protect aging brains from shrinking.
Brain Size Affects Cognitive Health
Brain shrinkage is typical with age and scientists have linked various degrees of shrinkage to its effects on memory and cognitive function.
In the study, which was published in the journal, Neurology, 700 people living in the UK were questioned about the leisure and physical activities they engaged in. When their brains were scanned three years later, those who were more physically active had larger volumes of gray and white brain matter. By comparison, those who engaged in nonphysical activities still showed signs of brain shrinkage despite engaging in their hobbies regularly. Regular physical activity also reduced the incidence of white matter lesions, which have been found to adversely affect memory and thinking.
Similar Study Supports Findings
A similar study showed that aerobic exercises—such as walking or jogging—were also more beneficial than nonaerobic exercises like stretching and toning. In this study, 120 individuals were split into two equal groups, with one group performing 30-45 minutes of moderate, aerobic exercise three times a week while the other group did stretching and toning exercises. MRI scans a year later revealed that the nonaerobic exercise group showed signs of shrinkage in a region of the brain known as the hippocampus whereas the hippocampus was larger in the exercise group. If you’ve been resting on your laurels waiting for yet another reason to start exercising for your overall health, the evidence above should hopefully convince you. So get up and start moving!
- Boyles S. Exercise Protects Aging Brains. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20121022/exercise-protects-aging-brains-better.
- Gow, A.J. Center for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.