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Published on: June 12, 2016
by Genevieve Alison and Grant McArthur for Herald Sun:
EXERCISING from middle age can prevent 20 years of aging for a person’s memory and stave off dementia, a groundbreaking Melbourne study has shown.
Regular exercise of any type, from walking the dog to marathon running, was shown to be the best protective factor against memory loss in a 20-year University of Melbourne study.
Regular exercise in middle age has been found to completely offset the usual loss of memory people experience in their later years, according to Assoc Prof Cassandra Szoeke’s study.
“It basically counteracts 20 years of aging,” she said.
“For people who are doing physical activity every day of the week, and have a good blood pressure, the amount better off they are is the equivalent of 20 years of ageing — so they reversed 20 years of the ageing effect.”
Previous global studies have shown exercise for people over 65 is able to improve cognitive function.
However, the Melbourne research is the first time anyone has studied people over 20 years so the impact of long-term exercise from middle age can be determined.
Assoc Prof Szoeke said the results demonstrate the need to adopt an active lifestyle before the degenerative effects of dementia began.
“It is really important in our knowledge and understanding of dementia because just in the last five years it has been recognised that dementia takes 30 years to occur,” she said.
From 1992, the Melbourne team followed 387 middle-aged women.
The women were tested on 11 occasions on their ability to recall words, with the results strongly indicating those who exercised frequently were able to prevent the normal amount of memory loss a person undergoes as they age.
While they are finalizing the data to present a chart showing the exact test scores offset by exercise in a coming scientific paper, Assoc Prof Szoeke said the most important message was to start exercising as soon as possible.
“There is no stipulation we are making on the physical activity people do,” Assoc Prof Szoeke said. “It is being active, and the optimal effect comes from being active seven days a week.”
“If you don’t start at 40, you could miss one or two decades of improvement to your cognition because every bit helps. That said, even once you’re 50 you can make up for lost time.”
Camberwell’s Pamela Skaufel, 42, was motivated to run after working with people suffering from Parkinson’s disease and seeing the positive effects exercise had.
“I thought that if people with neurological conditions could see improvements after exercise, then if you start early enough, the benefits would be even greater,” she said.
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