Exercise delays aging of brain, study finds

Neurologists find rigorous exercise slows aging of brain by decade


MIAMI – Rigorous exercise was associated with a slower rate of decline in thinking skills, according to a new study

Activities such as running, aerobics or calisthenics workouts such as body-weight training proved helpful, according to scientists from the University of Miami and Columbia University.

Those who performed low-intensity exercises such as light yoga experienced a decline, according to the study published in this month's issue of the American Academy of Neurology's medial journal.

"Moderate to intense exercise may help older people delay aging of the brain," said Dr. Clinton B. Wright, a UM Miller School of Medicine associate professor of neurology, and the author of the study.

The difference in aging among those who engaged in light  or lack of exercise and those who exercised intensely was of about a decade, Wright said. 

"Our study showed that for older people getting regular exercise may be protective, helping them keep their cognitive abilities longer," said Wright, who specializes on vascular dementia, memory trouble and cognitive disorders. 

Smoking, alcohol use, high blood pressure and body mass index can also affect brain health, so they were among the variables neurologists considered during the study. 

The scientists enrolled 876 volunteers -- 90 percent reported light  or no exercise and 10 percent reported high intensity exercise.

Through the Northern Manhattan Study, the volunteers took a memory and thinking test and underwent a Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the brain, when they were recruited and about seven years later. They took the tests for a third time about five years later. 

"More research from randomized clinical trials comparing exercise programs to more sedentary activity is needed to confirm these results," Wright said. 

The National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke supported the study.

Wright said that with the rising population of seniors in the U.S., the finding could help reduce the public health burden of memory issues. 


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