Exercise Smartens Up the Aging Brain

Review of the data finds activity keeps mental decline at bay

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FRIDAY, Aug. 11, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Exercise may slow age's impact on brain function, helping maintain whip-smart cognitive ability well into the senior years and preventing dementia-like illness, a new review of the data shows.

While there are varying opinions on the brain benefits of exercise and activity, "our review of the last 40 years of research does offer evidence that physical exercise can have a positive influence on cognitive brain functions in older animal and human subjects," wrote the study authors from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"We have found that physical and aerobic exercise training can lower the risk for developing some undesirable age-related changes in cognitive and brain functions and also help the brain maintain its plasticity -- [the brain's] ability to cover one function if another starts failing later in life," the authors wrote.

The researchers presented their findings Friday at the American Psychological Association's annual convention in New Orleans.

Some studies that included men and women over age 65 found that those who exercised three times a week for at least 15 to 30 minutes a session were less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease -- even if they were genetically predisposed to the condition.

And a study that examined the association between exercise and brain function in people ages 62 to 70 found that "those who continued to work and retirees who exercised showed sustained levels of cerebral blood flow and superior performance on general measures of cognition as compared to the group of inactive retirees."

Another study that compared older adults who walked and those who did stretching and toning found that those who walked were better able to ignore bothersome distractions.

"Aerobically trained older adults showed increased neural activities in certain parts of the brain that involved attention and reduced activity in other parts of the brain that are sensitive to behavioral conflict," the review authors said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about exercise for older adults.

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, Aug. 11, 2006

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