Yet Another (Good) Reason to Exercise

Whether you enjoy doing it or not, you know your daily workout is good for you.

Good for your muscles. Good for your bones. Good for your heart.

But did you know that it's also good for your brain?

Older people who exercise regularly--and face it, the habit begins when you're much younger--have a slower rate of decline in thinking skills that naturally occurs with aging.

And it makes a big difference.

People who reported light to no exercise experienced a decline equal to 10 more years of aging as compared to people who reported moderate to intense exercise, according to researchers from the University of Miami in Florida and Columbia University in New York City.

Translation: Spending 30 minutes speed-walking on a treadmill most days of the week will help you keep your wits about you much longer than if you are sedentary. More than anything else, it will help you delay the cognitive effects of aging.

The study: Led by Miami's Clinton B. Wright, M.D., the team examined data on 876 men and women who were enrolled in the Northern Manhattan Study. Participants were asked how long and how often they exercised during the two weeks prior to that date. An average of seven years later, each person was given tests of memory and thinking skills and a brain MRI, and five years after that they took the memory and thinking tests again.

Based on their reported exercise levels, participants were classified in one of two groups:

  • 90 percent: light exercise or no exercise
  • 10 percent: moderate to high-intensity exercise

The results: For those who had no signs of memory and thinking problems at the start of the study, researchers found that those reporting low activity levels showed a greater decline over five years compared to those with high activity levels on tests of how fast they could perform simple tasks and how many words they could remember from a list. The difference was equal to that of 10 years of aging. The difference also remained after researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect brain health, such as smoking, alcohol use, high blood pressure and body mass index.

Best of all, physical activity as a prescription for better cognitive health is inexpensive and doesn't interfere with medications.

The study findings were published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

--From the Editors at Netscape

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