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Getting ten minutes of physical exercise a day while in middle age can help to protect your brain from decline as you get older, a new study shows.
Regular physical activity – such as walking briskly, running or cycling – in middle age into later life is associated with less brain damage 25 years later, say scientists.
Colombia University Irving Medical Center researchers studied 1,600 people with an average age of 53 who had attended five physical examinations over 25 years. Their findings suggest greater amounts of ‘moderate-to-vigorous intensity’ physical activity in middle age have a ‘protective’ effect on the brain as you get older.
The participants involved in the study rated their weekly activity levels once at the start and again at two additional times over the 25 year period. Each person reported the amount of time they engaged in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity, which researchers classified as none, low, middle or high.
The researchers then used brain scans to measure participants’ grey and white brain matter and lesions, or areas of injury or disease in the brain, at the end of the study. Study author Priya Palta said the findings suggest physical activity – particularly during mid-life – is closely linked to brain health.
‘Getting at least an hour and 15 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity a week may be important throughout your lifetime for promoting brain health and preserving the actual structure of your brain,’ Palta said. ‘In particular, engaging in more than two-and-a-half hours of physical activity per week in middle age was associated with fewer signs of brain disease.’
Dr Palta said the results show being active in mid-life has real brain benefits, particularly ‘consistently high levels of mid-life moderate-to-vigour physical activity’.
Other research has shown that brain lesions may be caused by inflammation or other damage to the small blood vessels in the brain.
Dr Palta added: ‘Our research suggests that physical activity may impact cognition in part through its effects on small vessels in the brain.
‘This study adds to the body of evidence showing that exercise with moderate-to-vigorous intensity is important for maintaining thinking skills throughout your lifetime.’
The study has been published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.