Exercise for brain health

brainThe wellness blog in the New York Times had an article about brain health that has strengthened my resolve to exercise every day.

Walk, Jog or Dance: It’s All Good For the Aging Brain

It turns out that regular walking, cycling, swimming, dancing and even gardening may substantially reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

The author is referring to a recently published study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The study looked at 10 years’ worth of lifestyle data, including exercise levels, on 900 men and women over the age of 65. Over the course of those 10 years, the participants also had cognitive and memory tests done, and MRIs of their brains.

The scans showed that the top quartile of active individuals proved to have substantially more gray matter, compared with their peers, in those parts of the brain related to memory and higher-­level thinking. More gray matter, which consists mostly of neurons, is generally equated with greater brain health.

My father and father-in-law both suffered from dementia, so my husband and I are pretty concerned with keeping our brains healthy.

We try to eat well, keep our brains stimulated, and exercise.

Other good news from the study is that the people who increased their activity level over the years also showed brain improvement. (In other words, it’s not too late to start!)

At the same time, those whose physical activity increased over a five-year period — though these cases were few — showed notable increases in gray-matter volume in those same parts of their brains.

The bottom line: More physical activity was linked to more gray matter, which was linked to a lower risk of developing dementia.

[P]eople who had more gray matter correlated with physical activity also had 50 percent less risk five years laterof having experienced memory decline or of having developed Alzheimer’s.

“Physical activity” in this study was surprisingly moderate, and included gardening, ballroom dancing, walking and jogging.

The ideal amount and type of activity for staving off memory loss is unknown, [Cyrus Raji, a senior radiology resident at U.C.L.A., who led the study] says…the takeaway is that physical activity might change aging’s arc. “If we want to live a long time but also keep our memories, our basic selves, intact, keep moving,” Dr. Raji says.

Besides dementia, I just read another report that links too much sitting (more than 3 hours a day) with an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Another reminder to get up and get moving!

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