[A version of this item features in Dementia: the Latest Evidence Newsletter (Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust), Volume 3 Issue 4, November 2012].
Research published in the journal “Neurology” indicates that people aged over 70 who are more physically active tend to have less brain shrinkage. The research involved brain scans of 638 people over the age of retirement, who were followed over a three-year period.
It appears physical exercise does not have to be particularly strenuous to be beneficial; for example, taking a walk several times a week may be sufficient. In contrast, this study found no benefit on preserving brain-size from engaging in mentally challenging activities such as playing chess, doing crosswords or socialising.
Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, delivering oxygen and nutrients to brain cells, and this might explain these results. Previous research showed an association between walking speed and dementia progression. Reverse causality could be at work; it could be that when brains shrink the people affected become less inclined to exercise. More research is needed.
Roberts, M. (2012). Exercising in your 70s ‘may stop brain shrinkage’. London: BBC Health News, October 23rd 2012.
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Gow, AJ. Bastin, ME. [and] Maniega, SM. [et al] (2012). Neuroprotective lifestyles and the aging brain: activity, atrophy, and white matter integrity. Neurology, October 23rd 2012, Vol.79(17), pp.1802-1808.