Accumulating research shows that staying physically active is good for the aging brain. The latest study to support this is an analysis of data on 3,700 participants (average age 70) in the well-known Framingham Heart Study, published in the Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences. People who were least active were 50 percent more likely to develop dementia during the 10-year follow-up; those who did even “a modest amount” of physical activity had a marked reduction in risk.
In addition, physical activity was associated with increased total brain volume, particularly of the hippocampus, which is involved in short-term memory. One way that exercise may benefit the brain is by boosting cerebral blood flow, which declines with aging. “The brain is a highly metabolic organ that accounts for 20 percent of the oxygen and 25 percent of the glucose consumed even though it is only 2 percent of body weight, which makes it particularly vulnerable to alternations in blood flow,” the researchers noted.
More support for exercise comes from an analysis of 10 high-quality studies, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings in August 2016. It concluded that people in their seventies or eighties who engage in regular physical activity “seem to have a 40 percent lower chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease than their physically inactive peers.”