Exercise Keeps Your Brain from Shrinking

Simply gardening, dancing or golfing helps fend off dementia, researchers say

Robert Roy Britt
Elemental
Published in
4 min readMar 5, 2020

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Image: Science Photo Library/Getty Images

OOlder people who get regular physical activity, even through relatively light pursuits like gardening or golf, have bigger brains compared to inactive older people, a new study suggests. The finding adds to a mountain of research showing that physical activity helps prevent brain shrinkage and slow the effects of brain aging that lead to cognitive decline and dementia.

In the new research, brain scans of 1,557 older people, average age 75, revealed that the most-active third of them had a brain volume 1.4% greater than the least-active third, a difference equivalent to being four years younger, the researchers say.

People in the most-active group reported getting either seven hours of low-intensity physical activity weekly (things like gardening, dancing, golf, or bowling), or four hours of moderate activity (such as tennis, swimming, or hiking), or two hours of high-intensity activity (serious workouts such like jogging or handball).

“These results are exciting, as they suggest that people may potentially prevent brain shrinking and the effects of aging on the brain simply by becoming more active,” says the study’s lead author, Yian Gu, PhD, an assistant professor of neurological sciences at Columbia University.

The preliminary findings, not yet published, will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in Toronto this spring.

The study was not designed to determine if these more active people are at lower risk for dementia. But a separate study by Gu and her colleagues, published in December in the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Journal, found physical activity “associated with lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” she tells Elemental.

Other studies find dancing indeed bulks up that hippocampus, and gardening boosts levels of growth factors known to be good for the brain.

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Robert Roy Britt
Elemental

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB