Regular physical exercise has innumerable health benefits for people of every age group, but especially for senior citizens, as it heightens their brain size and lowers the risk of cognitive decline, claims a new study.
Carried out by researchers from UCLA, California, USA, the team used the landmark Framingham Heart Study to look at an association between exercise, brain volume and the risk of developing dementia.
The Framingham Heart Study was set up to look at common characteristics that contribute to heart disease, but since it started back in 1948 it has also looked at factors that contribute to other physiological conditions including dementia.
For their study the team looked at the physical activity levels from the original group of participants in the Framingham Heart Study as well as their offspring who were age 60 or over.
The team looked at an association between physical activity and the risk of developing all types of dementia in 3700 participants from both groups, as well as an association between physical activity and total brain volume and hippocampal volume, as measured by brain MRI scans, from a further 2063 participants from the offspring group only.
The participants, who did not suffer from dementia at the start of the study, were followed for more than a decade.
The results showed that there was an association between a low level of physical activity and a higher risk for dementia in older individuals, and that physical activity had a positive effect on brain volume, in particular on the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain involved in short-term memory.
The researchers also found that the positive effects of exercise were also strongest in people age 75 and older.
Although the findings showed that physical activity in old age could reduce the risk of dementia and lead to higher brain volumes, the team acknowledged that more research needs to be done to understand the intensity and duration of physical activity needed in order to slow down brain changes that occur with age. However with the results showing the health benefits of exercise in old age, they believe that it is never too late get involved in physical activity.
The findings were published in the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.
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