Moderate to Heavy Exercise for Brain Health A new study supports moderate to intense exercise for older people as researchers believe the activity can lessen the chance of small or silent strokes.

“These ‘silent strokes’ are more significant than the name implies, because they have been associated with an increased risk of falls and impaired mobility, memory problems and even dementia, as well as stroke,” said study author Joshua Z. Willey, M.D., M.S.

“Encouraging older people to take part in moderate to intense exercise may be an important strategy for keeping their brains healthy.”

Researchers followed 1,238 people who had never had a stroke for a period of six years. Participants completed a questionnaire about how often and how intensely they exercised at the beginning of the study; then had MRI scans of their brains after six years when they were an average of 70 years old.

The study is found in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN).

A total of 43 percent of the participants reported that they had no regular exercise; 36 percent engaged in regular light exercise, such as golf, walking, bowling or dancing; and 21 percent engaged in regular moderate to intense exercise, such as hiking, tennis, swimming, biking, jogging or racquetball.

The brain scans showed that 197 of the participants, or 16 percent, had small brain lesions, or infarcts, called silent strokes.

People who engaged in moderate to intense exercise were 40 percent less likely to have the silent strokes than people who did no regular exercise.

Individuals who participated in light exercise had similar factors to those that did not exercise.

“Of course, light exercise has many other beneficial effects, and these results should not discourage people from doing light exercise,” Willey said.

Unfortunately, socioeconomic status appears to influence outcomes as well; researchers did not find beneficial effects (of moderate to intense exercise) among people with Medicaid or no health insurance.

“It may be that the overall life difficulties for people with no insurance or on Medicaid lessens the protective effect of regular exercise,” Willey said.

Source: American Academy of Neurology