Walk your brain younger
Published : Saturday, 20 April, 2019 at 6:05 PM Count : 643
Regular exercise could boost your mental fitness as well as physical, and reduce your risk of developing dementia, scientists say.
A study has found people who do more physical activity – even if it is as light as just walking – slow their brains' ageing process and are less likely to get dementia.
The findings are good news for people who try to stay fit but aren't marathon runners or Tour de France hopefuls.
The researchers say all exercise, even if it's less than the two-and-a-half hours per week recommended by the NHS, could be enough to build up and have benefits.
And every extra hour could wipe another year off someone's brain age, the research suggests.
Scientists at Boston University studied data from an ongoing heart health study in the US to delve into the benefits of exercise.
They found every extra hour of physical activity in an average week corresponded to a brain age 1.1 years younger.
So someone doing three hours of exercise each week could, over time, maintain a brain effectively three years younger than the average for their age.
'We have really only just begun to uncover the relationship between physical activity and brain health,' said researcher Dr Nicole Spartano.
The research showed lower intensity exercise, as long as it was enough to get the heart, lungs and muscles working harder, could be beneficial.
Dr Spartano added: 'Every additional hour of light intensity physical activity was associated with higher brain volumes, even among individuals not meeting current physical activity guidelines.
'These data are consistent with the notion that potential benefits of physical activity on brain aging may [build up] at a lower, more achievable level of intensity or volume.'
The team said it was not clear how much exercise could be enough for 'optimal' protection against dementia, but recommended people do at least 250 minutes per week.
There are various mechanisms through which exercise can help the brain, including improving blood flow and encouraging better sleep.
Scientific studies have in the past found people who do regular aerobic exercise – that which is focused on cardiovascular fitness such as running, swimming and cycling – have more volume in certain parts of the brain.
The hippocampus, which controls learning and emotions, and the prefontal and medial temporal cortexes, which affect thinking and memory, have been found to be larger in fitter people.
Exercising often also improves people's sleep and reduces stress, both of which can have positive effects on mental health and thinking power.
The Boston team's research was published in the journal JAMA Network Open by the American Medical Association.-Daily Mail