Senior Citizens Boost Mental Abilities with Exercise
Even in Old Age, Two Studies Say
Women over 70 increased size of learning area of
brain, second finds window to successfully fight dementia with exercise
lasts into old age
April 10, 2014 - Its a good day for senior
citizens worried about dementia and diminishing mental abilities. Two
studies out today offer real hope. One says that regular exercise can
help senior women boost the size of the brain area used for memory and
learning. The other found that exercise after middle age seems to slow
dementia in old age and is most effective for those who are overweight.
The key point being it may never be too late to boost your mental
ability by exercising.
Older women boost memory area of brain with
The study of older women involved women between the
age of 70 and 80 that were living independently at home.
Regular aerobic exercise appeared to boost the size
of the area of the brain (hippocampus) involved in verbal memory and
learning among these women whose intellectual capacity had been affected
The hippocampus has become a focus of interest in
dementia research because it is the area of the brain involved in verbal
memory and learning, but it is very sensitive to the effects of aging
and neurological damage, according to the report on the study published
online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The researchers tested the impact of different
types of exercise on the hippocampal volume of 86 women who said they
had mild memory problems, known as mild cognitive impairment -- and a
common risk factor for dementia.
Roughly equal numbers of them were assigned to
either twice weekly hour long sessions of aerobic training (brisk
walking); or resistance training, such as lunges, squats, and weights;
or balance and muscle toning exercises, for a period of six months.
The size of their hippocampus was assessed at the
start and the end of the six month period by means of an MRI scan, and
their verbal memory and learning capacity was assessed before and
afterward using a validated test (RAVLT).
Only 29 of the women had before and after MRI
scans, but the results showed that the total volume of the hippocampus
in the group who had completed the full six months of aerobic training
was significantly larger than that of those who had lasted the course
doing balance and muscle toning exercises.
No such difference in hippocampal volume was seen
in those doing resistance training compared with the balance and muscle
There was one result from the study that raised a
red flag. Despite an earlier finding in the same sample of women that
aerobic exercise improved verbal memory, there was some evidence to
suggest that an increase in hippocampal volume was associated with
poorer verbal memory.
This suggests that the relationship between brain
volume and cognitive performance is complex, and requires further
research, say the authors.
But at the very least, aerobic exercise seems to be
able to slow the shrinkage of the hippocampus and maintain the volume in
a group of women who are at risk of developing dementia, they say.
And they recommend regular aerobic exercise to
stave off mild cognitive decline, which is especially important, given
the mounting evidence showing that regular exercise is good for
cognitive function and overall brain health, and the rising toll of
Worldwide, one new case of dementia is diagnosed
every four seconds, with the number of those afflicted set to rise to
more than 115 million by 2050, they point out.
Risk of dementia
in old age reduced by physical exercise in old age
The of the second study suggest that the window of
opportunity for physical activity interventions to prevent dementia may
extend from midlife to older ages, according to researchers from the
University of Eastern Finland..
Physical activity in midlife seems to protect from
dementia in old age, they report. Those who engaged in physical activity
at least twice a week had a lower risk of dementia than those who were
less active. The protective effects were particularly strong among
In addition, the results showed that becoming more
physically active after midlife may also contribute to lowering dementia
Several modifiable risk factors for dementia have
been suggested, but further refinement of this information is essential
for effective preventive interventions targeted at high-risk groups.
Leisure-time physical activity particularly
Leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) is a
particularly important due to its broader effects on health in general
and cardiovascular health in particular. Previous research has yielded
inconsistent evidence on the association between LTPA and dementia,
possibly because of short follow-up time, intensity of physical activity
or population characteristics such as sex, body mass index, age or
genetic risk factors of dementia.
Recent findings from the Cardiovascular Risk
Factors, Aging and Incidence of Dementia (CAIDE) Study demonstrated that
those who engaged in leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) at least
twice per week had lower risk of dementia in comparison to less active
individuals. Although these protective effects were observed in the
entire study population, regardless of their sex or genetic risk
factors, they were particularly strong among overweight and obese
Becoming physically active after midlife may
still lower the risk of dementia
In addition, staying physically active, or becoming
more active, after midlife may also contribute to lowering dementia
risk, especially in people who are overweight or obese at midlife. The
findings were not explained by socioeconomic background, age, sex,
genetic risk factors, obesity, weight loss, general health status or
work-related physical activity.
Results from currently ongoing trials, such as the
Finnish multi-center trial FINGER may give more detailed information
about the type, intensity, and duration of physical activity
interventions that can be used for preventing late-life cognitive
The study was conducted at the University of
Eastern Finland, Department of Neurology and published in Alzheimer's
The authors included Anna-Maija Tolppanen, Alina
Solomon, Jenni Kulmala, Ingemar Kεreholt, Tiia Ngandu, Minna Rusanen,
Tiina Laatikainen, Hilkka Soininen and Miia Kivipelto.
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