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Exercise Trumps Mental Activity in Protecting Aging Brain

Exercising regularly in old age may protect against brain shrinkage better than engaging in mental or social activities, according to a new study.

“People in their seventies who participated in more physical exercise, including walking several times a week, had less brain shrinkage and other signs of aging in the brain than those who were less physically active,” said study author Alan J. Gow, Ph.D., with the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

“On the other hand, our study showed no real benefit to participating in mentally and socially stimulating activities on brain size, as seen on MRI scans, over the three-year time frame.”

Researchers looked at the medical records of 638 people from Scotland born in 1936. They were then given MRI scans at 73 years old, as well as questioned about their exercise habits.

Their exercise habits range from moving only in connection with necessary household chores to keeping fit with heavy exercise or participating in competitive sports several times per week.

They also reported their participation in social and mentally stimulating activities.

The study found that after three years, people who participated in more physical activity experienced less brain shrinkage than those who exercised minimally.

“Our results show that regularly exercising in old age is potentially important to protecting the brain as we age,” said Gow.

The study, supported by Research Into Aging, the Age UK-funded Disconnected Mind Project and the United Kingdom’s Medical Research Council, was published in Neurology.

Source: American Academy of Neurology


Exercise Trumps Mental Activity in Protecting Aging Brain

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Exercise Trumps Mental Activity in Protecting Aging Brain. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 24, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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