By now, most Kentuckians are probably aware that keeping the mind active in later life can help to fend off dementia. Reading, doing crossword puzzles, and playing Sudoku are examples of such mental exercise.
A recent study indicates that physical activity may also have a positive effect on the brain.
A Study of the Brain and Physical Activity
Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to compare the brains of older adults with an active lifestyle to those who were inactive. The team studied 20 years of MRIs and clinical data for 876 people with an average age of 78 years. During their analysis, the researchers took into account the following details:
· head size;
· body mass index (which affects brain structure and atrophy);
· small vessel ischemic disease (possible indicators of conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which may affect the brain);
· presence of Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment (MCI); and
· study site.
Activity Affects Brain Volume
Brain volume in the areas responsible for memory and learning was greater among individuals who burned the most calories per week, compared with those who burned the fewest. Findings revealed that the gray matter volume of active individuals was an average of five percent higher than that of inactive individuals.
Dr. Cyrus Raji, a radiology resident at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), is lead author of the study. “That is a large number difference when you consider the tremendous biologic forces that have to be at work for gray matter volume to decrease,” Dr. Raji said during the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.
“The areas of the brain that are benefiting the most from this active lifestyle are also the areas affected in Alzheimer’s disease and are also responsible for cognition,” said Dr. Raji. “People with Alzheimer’s who were more physically active in our study weren’t cured, but they had less deterioration in their brain matter volume, compared with the sedentary individuals.”
More Research Is Needed
The researchers did not specifically study the effects of an active lifestyle on Alzheimer’s or MCI symptoms.
“Whether physical activity can significantly alter the course remains to be seen,” said Dr. Candice A. Johnstone of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. “It may be that people with changes in brain volume may be more likely to have [fewer] symptoms because their brain’s actively working to enhance those areas, but that’s the subject of future research. We do not know that.”
Staying active is important for people who live in Kentucky nursing homes.
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