Moderately vigorous physical activity protects your brain in old age
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Moderately vigorous physical activity (i.e. exercise more strenuous than walking) at midlife is associated with better cognition in old age, finds a new 25-year follow-up study of 3050 twins.
Researcher Paula Iso-Markku, from the University of Helsinki, said:
few long-term, high-quality, follow-up studies on physical activity and cognition have been published, and it has remained unclear what type and amount of exercise is needed to safeguard cognition
The study also found that the effect of moderately vigorous physical activity on cognition was not related to midlife hypertension, smoking, education level, sex, obesity or binge drinking.
This is important because other studies have found traditional heart disease risk factors (e.g. elevated blood pressure, hyper-cholesterolemia, obesity, diabetes and lack of exercise) are also related to dementia risk.
This suggests that the beneficial influence of physical activity on the brain and cognition is not solely based on decreasing vascular risk factors
Another key finding of the study was that the memory-protecting benefits of exercise only required a moderate amount of physical activity.
More physical activity did not increase the benefit.
The risk for cognitive impairment was only significantly higher in the most inactive group of twins.
The findings of the study back earlier studies with animals. These studies have shown that physical activity increases the amount of growth factors in the brain and improves synaptic plasticity.
The study’s 3050 twins were from the Finnish Twin Cohort.
The twins provided information on physical activity through questionnaire surveys from 1975 and 1981 (mean age in 1981: 49 years).
Validated telephone interviews, conducted between 1999 and 2015, were used to assess cognition.
The study first looked at all people in the cohort. The researchers then compared later cognition in pairs where one twin was more physically active than the other.
The study was published in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (Iso-Markku et al., 2016).
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