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Exercise May Beat Socializing at Staving Off Brain Shrinkage

Study also found physical activity more protective than mental stimulation

MONDAY, Oct. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Regular exercise may offer seniors more protection against brain shrinkage than social or mentally stimulating activities, a new study suggests.

Previous research has linked aging-related brain shrinkage to memory and thinking problems.

In this study, Scottish researchers examined the medical records of 638 people who were born in 1936 and underwent MRI brain scans when they were 73. The participants provided details about their physical activity levels and other lifestyle habits.

Over three years, people with higher levels of exercise had less brain shrinkage than those who did little or no exercise, according to the study in the Oct. 23 issue of the journal Neurology.

"People in their 70s who participated in more physical exercise, including walking several times a week, had less brain shrinkage and other signs of aging in the brain than those who were less physically active," study author Alan Gow, at the University of Edinburgh, said in a journal news release.

"On the other hand, our study showed no real benefit to participating in mentally and socially stimulating activities on brain size, as seen on MRI scans, over the three-year time frame," he added.

The findings "show that regularly exercising in old age is potentially important to protecting the brain as we age," Gow concluded.

While the study found an association between exercise and lower levels of brain shrinkage, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The Society for Neuroscience has more about healthy brain aging.

SOURCE: Neurology, news release, Oct. 22, 2012

Copyright © 2012 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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