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Increase your brain size and lower your dementia risk with exercise

We all know that we should exercise more, especially as we get older. Sitting down for long periods of time and taking no exercise is generally not good for body or soul. Now a new study from scientists at UCLA has suggested that being involved in regular physical activity as we age leads to both an increase in our hippocampul volume meaning that we could be less likely to develop dementia in old age.

By studying data from the Framingham Heart Study, the UCLA researchers found an association between low levels of physical activity and a higher risk of dementia in older people. Their conclusions have led them to suggest that taking regular physical activity during our later years could be key to keeping both our bodies and brains healthy as we age.

While some previous longitudinal studies have indicated that there’s an inverse relationship between decline in cognition and the amount of activity someone undertakes, other studies have been unable to find such a relationship. The UCLA team wanted to see if they could find a link between the two.

In this particular study, the research team assessed 10 years of data from an older, community based group from the Framingham study to see if they could find an association between the amount of physical activity undertaken by each individual and their risk for any form of dementia, no matter what the cause. They also assessed data from the original group’s children who were aged 60 and older. In total there were 3,700 participants, who were all classified as being cognitively intact at the beginning of the study. The team assessed 2000 of the participants to see if there was a link between physical activity and brain MRI.

From the research, the team discovered that taking part in physical activities had a positive effect on the size of the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain that controls our short-term memory. Furthermore, they discovered that this protective effect seemed to be at its strongest in the study participants who were aged 75 and over. So, there you have it. If you want to stave off dementia as you age, you need to keep active.

The research was published online in Journals of Gerontology Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.

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