By Heather Hill, Managing Director and Lead Nursing Professional, Heather Hill Pathways.
Keeping in line with previous studies that have shown regular physical exercise can cut the risk of developing dementia by a third, a recent University of Edinburgh study has objectively shown that physical rather than mental exercise offers the best protection against excessive shrinking of the brain in later life.
Study author, Alan Gow, explained that the study found, “people in their 70s who participated in more physical exercise, including walking several times a week, had less brain shrinkage and other signs of ageing in the brain than those who were less physically active”.
What is interesting is that this study also showed that there were, “no real benefit(s) to participating in mentally and socially stimulating activities on brain size, as seen on MRI scans, over the (study’s) three-year time frame”.
The study found that those participants who had been doing more exercise had less brain shrinkage than those who exercised minimally and had larger volumes of grey matter in their brains (showing that fewer brain cells had died). Interestingly the study also showed that there was no real correlation between mental activity and brain shrinkage.
The study sample involved 638 Scottish participants born in 1936 who were asked to fill in questionnaires about their physical and mental activities at age 70 and given MRI scans at age 73.
When asked to comment on this study, Professor James Goodwin, head of research at Age UK, said that the, “research re-emphasises that it really is never too late to benefit from exercise, so whether it’s a brisk walk to the shops, gardening or competing in a fun run it is crucial that, those of us who can, get active as we grow older.”