Physically active seniors stayed mentally sharper than their sedentary peers
By Amy Norton
The study found that seniors who got moderate to intense exercise retained more of their mental skills over the next five years, versus older adults who got light exercise or none at all.
On average, those less-active seniors showed an extra 10 years of "brain aging," the researchers said.
The findings do not prove that exercise itself slows brain aging, cautioned senior researcher Dr. Clinton Wright, a neurologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
It's possible, he said, that there are other reasons why active older adults stayed mentally sharper.
And exercise levels were still connected to the participants' performance on tests of memory and "processing speed" -- the ability to digest a bit of new information, then respond to it.
Plus, Wright said, it's plausible that exercise would affect those mental skills. Other research has shown that physical activity boosts blood flow to the brain, and may enhance the connections among brain cells, for example.
Exercise can also help manage "vascular risk factors," such as high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels and diabetes, Wright pointed out.
The new study findings were published March 23 in the journal Neurology.
Dr. Ezriel Kornel, a neurosurgeon who was not involved in the study, agreed that the findings don't prove that exercise will keep you thinking clearly.
"It could simply be that people who are drawn to exercise are also at lower risk of cognitive decline," said Kornel, a clinical assistant professor of neurological surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College, in New York City.
That said, he called the study "important," because it at least suggests that exercise could have a big impact on people's mental function as they age.