According to a recent study, seniors that engage in regular and intensive physical exercise can postpone their age-related cognitive decline by 10 years. Additionally, people that exercise into old age have better memory, are more mentally fit, and can process new information faster than their sedentary peers.
Past studies had found other benefits of staying physically active later in life including a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, better skeletal system, keeping diabetes in check, and fending off depression.
The latest study involved a group of Manhattan residents with the average age of 71. About 60 percent were Latin-Americans, while 20 percent were blacks. Nearly half had graduated high school. Most participants were monitored over a five-year period.
About 10 percent of study participants engaged in intensive workouts several times per week, which meant that they managed to raise their heart rate. About 90 percent of volunteers were sedentary or engaged in light physical exercise.
After five years, scientists noticed that the highly-active group fared a lot better in cognitive tests than the sedentary group. In fact, the highly-active had brains that were 10 years younger than those of their less-active counterparts. Researchers found that especially episodic memory declined more slowly when moderate to intensive exercise was involved.
Clinton B. Wright, senior researcher in the study and neurologist at University of Miami, noted that it is not enough to just stroll to get into the 10 percent category. If you want to keep your mind sharp for longer, you should do workouts several times per week and lift your heart rate at least a bit when you do so, he explained.
The research team believes that the newly found association between a slower mental decline and physical activity may be linked to vascular health. Regular exercise keeps blood vessels healthy as we age, and healthy blood vessels often translate into a sharper mind.
Healthy blood vessels can carry more oxygen to the brain thus staving off severe cognitive decline such as dementia. And this may be why regular exercise promotes mental fitness through old age. Moreover, intensive physical activity helps the brain release hormones that shields it against aging processes.
Dr. Virend Somers of the Mayo Clinic noted that the study does not demonstrate that physical activity prevents cognitive decline. It could be the other way around, i.e. mentally fit seniors are more likely to remain physically active as they age. But Somers acknowledged that the new findings made a good case for exercise.
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