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Published on: March 12, 2013
by Nick McDermott for The Daily Mail:
It is not only our heart and waistline that benefit from lifelong exercise – our brains do too.
Undertaking physical activity four or more times a week from childhood helps improve brainpower in later life by up to a third, and could help stave off the onset of dementia.
While all adults suffer mental decline with greater age, scientists found regular exercise, such as playing sport, jogging, attending the gym or even a brisk walk with the dog, can have a protecting effect on the brain.
More than 9,000 individuals took part in a 40-year study from age of 11. Researchers quizzed them on levels of exercise at regular age intervals, and participants also undertook tests of memory, attention and learning.
The study found participants who exercised weekly throughout their life performed better on tests of memory, learning, attention and reasoning at the age of 50, compared to those who exercised two to three times per month or less.
Men who undertook physical activity more than four times a week were found to have lost a third less of their brainpower by the age of 50, compared to their peers who did no exercise, while women benefit from a 25 per cent reduction.
Even those who exercised once a week saw a boost, with the physical activity helping to slow their mental decline by an average of 10 per cent.
Study leader Dr Alex Dregan, from King’s College London, said: ‘The research shows that any physical activity is beneficial for cognitive function.
Current guidelines are for 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week, but the study has found you do not have to take this much exercise to see benefits. Even those that take part in physical activity once a week still benefit.
‘For a man who exercises regularly, the rate of cognitive decline when they reach 50 is reduced by a third, while for women it is a quarter.
‘And the benefits of regular exercise will continue after an individual reaches 50.
‘The results suggest that regular physical activity could help delay dementia.’
Government guidelines say that adults aged 19 to 64 should exercise for at least 150 minutes per week, the equivalent of five half-an-hour sessions.
‘It’s widely acknowledged that a healthy body equals a healthy mind,’ said Dr Dregan, whose findings were published in the journal Psychological Medicine.
‘However, not everyone is willing or able to take part in the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week.
For these people any level of physical activity may benefit their cognitive well-being in the long-term and this is something that needs to be explored further.
‘Setting lower exercise targets at the beginning and gradually increasing their frequency and intensity could be a more effective method for improving levels of exercise within the wider population.’
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