Stay Active, Keep the Brain Healthy?

Physically active people showed less signs of brain shrinking with age

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) As the brain ages, some mental skills may suffer. Staying physically active may be linked to keeping the brain healthy into old age.

A recent study found that elderly people who said they were physically active also had less signs of aging in their brains.

These researchers report that patients had less shrinking of the brain and fewer damaged areas than people who said they were not physically active.

"Keep active - your brain will thank you."

Researchers, led by Alan J. Gow, PhD, of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh in the UK, asked 691 people about their physical and recreational activities when they were age 70.

Three years later, they did brain scans to look for signs of the brain changes that are associated with loss of memory and thinking skills as people age.

They looked for signs of brain tissue that is damaged and how much healthy brain tissue the people had.

They looked for signs of shrinking, termed white matter atrophy, and they also looked for lesions in the brain tissue that can interrupt brain function.

The researchers found that reporting higher levels of physical activity was linked with having a larger amount of healthy brain tissue, less white matter atrophy and fewer lesions.

So, people who said they were active had less damaged brain tissue and more healthy brain tissue.

The authors concluded that staying physically active may help to protect the brain from age-related losses.

However, this study was observational. Meaning, it is not clear if being physically active is the cause of the better brain health.

It could be that better brain health also leads to people being more active.

More research is needed to understand the relationship between healthy living and age-related brain changes. This study was published October 23 in Neurology.  The authors reported having no conflicts of interest.

The study was supported by a Research Into Ageing programme grant and the Age UK-funded Disconnected Mind project, with additional funding from the Medical Research Council.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 4, 2012
Last Updated:
November 6, 2012