Study: Exercise may slow mental decline by 10 years

About 90 percent of participants in the study reported little to no physical activity at the start, with those exercising the least showing the greatest rate of cognitive decline during the 12-year study.
By Stephen Feller   |   March 25, 2016 at 4:51 PM

MIAMI, March 25 (UPI) -- Exercise can slow cognitive decline in older people by 10 years, researchers at the University of Miami found in a recent study.

People who reported little to no physical activity in the study saw a greater decline in brain aging than those who were active, the researchers report in the new study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

A study released earlier this year by Boston University found increased blood flow resulting from physical activity protected brain volume, which also protects its ability to function properly.

"Physical activity is an attractive option to reduce the burden of cognitive impairment in public health because it is low cost and doesn't interfere with medications," Dr. Clinton Wright, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Miami, said in a press release.

For the study, researchers recruited 876 participants with an average age of 71, assessing their cognition in the Northern Manhattan Study based on processing speed, semantic memory, episodic memory and executive function, with 90 percent of participants reporting light exercise, and 10 percent reporting moderate to heavy levels of exercise. The participants were then assessed seven years later with the same tests, and again five years after that.

Overall, the researchers report people without signs of cognitive impairment who exercised the least when the study started showed a more significant decline in brain function equivalent to about 10 years of aging.

"The number of people over the age of 65 in the United States is on the rise, meaning the public health burden of thinking and memory problems will likely grow," Wright said. "Our study showed that for older people, getting regular exercise may be protective, helping them keep their cognitive abilities longer."

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