Regular exercise can slow down brain ageing by 10 years, researchers found. The findings provide a new motivation for people to lead a healthier, more active lifestyle.

The research team examined a mixed group comprised of 1,228 residents in Manhattan. They were asked about their regular exercise routine and answered a series of tests that measured their cognitive abilities such as organization, memory, thinking speed and reasoning.

After five years, half of the study participants underwent the same tests. They found that those who exercised regularly performed better on the cognitive tests. The results were consistent with past researches that linked increased exercise and a healthy brain.

When the researchers factored in some of the influencers on brain function such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, this association disappeared. These health conditions could affect the blood flow towards the brain and slow down cognitive functions.

"That suggests that people with low physical activity levels also had a greater burden of those risk factors," said senior author Dr. Clinton Wright, a neurology and public health sciences associate professor at the University of Miami. The research was published in the journal Neurology on March 23.

The team focused on the participants without the additional health conditions. They compared their cognitive scores taken when the study started and the ones taken five years after.

Wright and team found the same trends: the ones who exercised regularly had better cognitive scores compared to those who worked out less. The trend was strongest in memory and thinking speed.

The cognitive decline was also slower in people who exercised regularly and found this increased level of physical activity can slow down brain aging by as much as 10 years.

"Calisthenics several times a week, playing handball or tennis, even moderate amounts of activity can be a benefit," said co-author Dr. Mitchell Elkind, an epidemiology and a neurology professor at the New York Presbyterian/Columbia University.

The finding suggest that exercise routines ranging from moderate to intense can help senior adults slow down brain aging. However, the researchers said that further studies from random, clinical trials are needed to confirm the link.

Photo: Brett Lohmeyer | Flickr

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