Exercise ‘knocks a decade off your brain age’

Regular exercise has a profound effect on the brain, delaying cognitive decline by as much as ten years, according to a study published in Neurology.

The study, which examined the exercise habits of 866 pensioners with an average age of 71, found that low levels of physical activity were associated with a faster decline in cognitive function.

The subjects were divided into two groups: those who did little or no exercise, and those who did more strenuous activities, such as running and aerobics. Both were given brain function tests, which were repeated after five years. They found that memory and cognitive function declined more quickly in the low activity group, and that the results held when other health factors were taken into account. The study reported that the difference was equivalent to 10 years of ageing.

The study’s lead author, Clinton Wright, said: ‘With an expected increase in the population older than 65 years, the public health burden of cognitive impairment and dementia will become substantial.

‘Physical activity is an attractive option to reduce the burden of cognitive impairment in public health because it is low cost and doesn’t interfere with medications. Our results suggest that moderate to intense exercise may help older people delay ageing of the brain.’

Instant analysis
People who exercise benefit in many ways from doing so, and keeping active in older age both mentally and physically should always be encouraged. However, only 10 per cent of the people studied were engaging in moderate to heavy exercise, and there are likely to be many other factors that allowed them to exercise in this way, such as genetics, lifestyle and absence of other medical conditions or risk factors (some of which were taken into account).
Research score: 3/5