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Greater Levels of Exercise May Protect Brain in Later Life

Greater levels of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity linked to more intact white matter integrity in late life, lower odds of lacunar infarcts

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THURSDAY, Jan. 14, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Greater levels of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA) in midlife may protect against cerebrovascular sequelae in later life, according to a study published online Jan. 6 in Neurology.

Priya Palta, Ph.D., from the Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, and colleagues used data from 1,604 participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study to examine the impact of leisure-time MVPA on the brain in midlife or late life. Magnetic resonance imaging in late life was used to quantify the presence of cerebrovascular lesions, white matter hyperintensities, white matter integrity (mean fractional anisotropy [FA] and mean diffusivity [MD]), and grey matter volumes.

Of the participants, 34, 11, 16, and 39 percent reported no, low, middle, and high MVPA in midlife, respectively. The researchers found that high MVPA compared with no MVPA in midlife correlated with more intact white matter integrity in late life (mean FA difference, 0.13 per standard deviation; mean MD difference, −0.11 per standard deviation). There was also a correlation seen for high MVPA in midlife with lower odds of lacunar infarcts (odds ratio, 0.68). No correlation was seen for high MVPA with grey matter volumes. Compared with no MVPA in late life, high MVPA was associated with most brain measures.

"Our results show that staying active during mid-life may have real brain benefits," Palta said in a statement. "In particular, consistently high levels of mid-life MVPA were associated with fewer brain lesions in later life."

One author disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

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