Exercise to beat dementia: Regular physical activity 'boosts brain regeneration'

Frequent, moderate physical activity can delay the start of dementia

Science Editor in Chicago

Moderate but regular exercise can boost the size of the parts of the brain that shrink with age, according to scientists who believe that light physical activity is one of the best ways of preventing senile dementia.

A study involving 120 people aged between 60 and 80 found that walking briskly for 30 to 40 minutes a day three times a week was all that it takes to “re-grow” the structures of the brain linked with cognitive decline in later life.

The effect was equivalent to stopping the ageing clock of the brain by between 1 and 2 years and is one of the first scientifically controlled studies demonstrating the power of physical exercise in delaying the onset of mental decline and boosting brain regeneration, scientists said.

Brain scans taken before and after the year-long study showed that two regions of the brain in particular - the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus - grew in volume among the group undertaking light aerobic exercise, while they continued to shrink in those who were given only stretching tasks.

The exercise group also did better at cognitive tasks which tested things like memory, language ability and attention, which are known to decline with age, than the second group that did not exercise.

“The results suggest that brain and cognitive function of the older adults remain plastic and highly malleable. There is not this inevitable decline that we used to think there was. We can improve brain function by relatively modest amounts of physical activity,” said Kirk Erickson of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

“Between six months and one year of regular physical activity can actually increase the size of the prefrontal cortex regions and another region of the brain called the hippocampus,” Professor Erickson told the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“Both of these regions deteriorate and shrink as we get older. The prefrontal cortex is really involved in a lot of higher level cognitive functions and the hippocampus is well known to be involved in memory formation, and when it shrinks it leads to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” he said.

“With modest amounts of exercise we are able to increase the size of these structures that typically deteriorate and precede the cognitive complaints that often come in late adulthood

“The hippocampus increased by about 2 per cent over a one year period. That may sound like a modest amount but that’s actually like reversing the age clock by about one to two years,” he added.

There is strong epidemiological evidence linking a sedentary lifestyle to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, but this latest study was part of a randomised, controlled trial which has a greater power of linking cause and effect, Professor Erickson said.

“We take older adults, bring them in to the laboratory, assess their fitness levels and give them very comprehensive cognitive tests. We show that those adults that remain more active and physically fit tended to do better on a variety of cognitive tests,” he told the meeting.

“In these studies we bring people into the lab who are not very physically active to begin with, and they are at higher risk of cognitive decline. We randomise them into either a control condition or one that receives exercise,” he explained.

“They come in three days a week, and have the same social interaction etc. The main difference is in the type of physical exercise and the intensity of exercise. One group does walking around a track and the other does light stretching, rather than aerobic exercise,” he said.

The scientists do not as yet know what causes the brain areas to increase in volume. It might be increased blood flow or an increase in the number of neurons or other kinds of brain cells.

While there was a 2 per cent average increase in volume within the exercise group, the same brain regions shrunk by about 1.5 per cent in the group who did not take part in the exercise regime, which is the normal rate of shrinking for this age range, Professor Erickson said.

“You don’t need highly vigorous physical activity to see these effects. People are misled into believing they need years of vigorous physical exercise. But it only needs to be moderate and not even for that long,” he said.

“They feel better. They say they feel as if the fog has lifted. We get those types of comments quite a bit, so anecdotally it seems to benefit these cognitive functions,” he said.

“Exercise influences virtually every tissue and organ system of the body. It has a very widespread influence and makes it very difficult to track which makes it difficult to isolate one thing but that’s probably why it’s so difficult to know what’s going on because it hitting so many different molecular systems.

“All the evidence is lining up that this is a very effective non-pharmaceutical approach to treating dementia....If we measured these people for longer period of time we’d probably find that we are slowing the decline rather than completely mitigating it. But it might slow it down for a long period of time. We cannot say it’s the magic bullet cure for Alzheimer’s -- there isn’t one,” he said.

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
i100
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Arts and Entertainment
A shared vision: Cerys Matthews has been familiarising herself with Dylan Thomas’s material, for a revealing radio programme
arts + entsA singer, her uncle and a special relationship with Dylan Thomas
News
In other news ... Jon Snow performed at last year's Newsroom's Got Talent charity event
people
News
i100
Life and Style
Text messaging changes as a relationship evolves
life
News
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

    £300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

    KS1 Teacher

    £95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

    HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

    £32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again