Brains Stay Sharper With Exercise

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Want to reduce your risk of dementia in older age? Move as much as you can.

We’ve all heard about techniques to get us more physically active — take the stairs, park the car a bit further from your destination, get up and march in place for a minute or two when standing or sitting at a desk.

Now a study finds even simple housework like cooking or cleaning may make a difference in brain health in our 70s and 80s.

“Exercise is an inexpensive way to improve health and our study shows it may have a protective effect on the brain,” says Dr. Aron S. Buchman with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, who led the study.

Previous research found just 45 minutes of walking three days a week actually increased brain volume among individuals 65 and older.

The new study, published Wednesday in the online issue of Neurology, is unique because Buchman was able to analyze the actual brains of study participants. The findings are a “great thank you” to the participants who agreed to donate their brains for research after death, he says.

The study looked at 454 older adults who were 70 or older when the research began. Of those adults, 191 had behavioral signs of dementia and 263 did not. All were given thinking and memory tests every year for 20 years.

In the last years of research before death, each participant wore an activity monitor called an accelerometer, similar to a Fitbit, which measured physical activity around the clock — everything from small movements such as walking around the house to more vigorous movements like exercise routines. Researchers collected and evaluated 10 days of movement data for each participant and calculated an average daily activity score.

 

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