Private Business Intermediaries

Out of the armchair and into the outdoors

23/10/2012 | By Sharmila Chauhan
The elderly may do well to put away their crosswords and Sudoko and take up more exercise to prevent brain shrinkage. The results of a new study published today in the academic journal Neurology suggest that physical activity and not mentally stimulating activities may help to protect the brain.

Researchers looked at medical records of 638 people from Scotland born in 1936 and investigated the effect of physical exercise (such as walking several times of the week) on brain size. Participants were asked to give details about their exercise habits as well as participation in social and mentally stimulating activities. They were then given MRI scans at 73 years old.
The results show that after three years, people who did regular physical activity had less brain shrinkage than those who exercised minimally. Mentally stimulating activities such as crosswords and socialising seemed to have no effect.

“People in their seventies who participated in more physical exercise, including walking several times a week, had less brain shrinkage and other signs of aging in the brain than those who were less physically active,” said study author Alan J. Gow, PhD, with the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. “On the other hand, our study showed no real benefit to participating in mentally and socially stimulating activities on brain size, as seen on MRI scans, over the three-year time frame.”

Research has already shown that brain size decreases as we age and this can lead to memory problems.  So reducing this may have a positive effect on diseases such as dementia and may help to protect the brain from ageing.
“Our results show that regularly exercising in old age is potentially important to protecting the brain as we age,” said Gow. The good news is that the research doesn’t have to be strenuous and could be as little as walking a few times a week. It is never too late to start taking a little more exercise.

The study was supported by Research Into Aging, the Age UK funded Disconnected Mind Project and the United Kingdom’s Medical Research Council.