Seniors: Step It Up for a Bigger Brain
Older adults who start a moderately intense walking program may prevent memory loss
Like so many tissues throughout the body, the brain tends to shrink, or atrophy, a bit as we age. In particular, a part of the brain called the hippocampus is known to atrophy late in life, and as it shrinks, so does memory. A study shows that we might be able to intervene in this aspect of aging by demonstrating that older adults who start a moderately intense walking program can prevent atrophy of the hippocampus and loss of memory.
Elders engage in walking and stretching
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, included 120 adults between 55 and 80 years old who did not have dementia. They were assigned to participate in either an aerobic walking program or a stretching program three times per week for one year. Memory tests were performed and hippocampus size was measured using MRI at the beginning, middle, and end of the study. Fitness levels were also assessed before and after the trial.
The walking group started by walking 10 minutes per session, increasing by 5-minute increments each week until they reached 40 minutes of walking per session, which they maintained for the remainder of the trial. People in the walking group used heart monitors to be sure that they were getting a moderately intense aerobic workout. The stretching group engaged in exercises to improve flexibility, strength, and balance.
Exercise increases brain size, and good memory is linked to fitness
At the end of the trial:
"These results clearly indicate that aerobic exercise is neuroprotective," the study's authors concluded, "and that starting an exercise regimen later in life is not futile for either enhancing cognition or augmenting brain volume."
Ready, set, go!
The evidence in favor of exercise shows it's never too late to get started. Here are some tips for people over 50 who want to start exercising:
(Proc Natl Acad Sci 2011;108:3017-22)
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada, and has done extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.