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article imageHow walking can save your brain

By Susan Berg     Oct 19, 2010 in Health
New research suggests that walking at least six miles per week maintains your brain's volume and preserves your memory as you age.
source: American Academy of Neurology
Kirk I. Erickson, PhD, at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, and his colleagues reported these findings in the October 13 issue of the journal, Neurology.
Dr Erickson found the results quite astounding. He said that other studies have shown that exercise is related to brain function, but what amazed him was the fact that he and his colleagues found that walking as little as one mile a day is related to brain volume nine years later, and dementia 13 years later.
According to these researchers, the volume of gray matter in your brain decreases in late adulthood and usually precedes cognitive impairment. It has been hypothesized that participation in physical exercise will protect brain tissue against deterioration. “This hypothesis has not been tested in longitudinal study”, Dr. Erickson and colleagues wrote.
In the Cardiovascular Health Cognition Study, 299 people free of dementia, whose mean age was 78 years were assessed for physical activity, which was measured by the number of blocks they walked in one week.
Nine years later after the physical activity assessment, MRI scans were used to measure brain size. Four years later, the participants were tested for cognitive impairment and dementia.
Those participating were classified into four groups depending on the number of blocks they walked. MRI scan measurements nine years later showed that gray matter volume in the highest quarter differed from the other three quarters significantly.
Those participants who walked at least six miles per week had more gray matter than people who walked less, but walking more than nine miles did not increase gray matter volume any more.
In the four year follow-up, 116 of the participants, or 40%, had developed cognitive impairment or dementia.
"Based on our results, we can conclude that there is a relation between the amount of walking earlier in life and brain volume in later adulthood and that greater volume of tissue related to walking is associated with a reduced risk of cognitive impairment," the study authors said.
Dr. Erickson said that much more work is needed from randomized trials that assign people to an exercise treatment for long periods. "Only under these conditions will we be able to determine the extent to which exercise augments brain function in late life," he said.
The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging.
More about Kirk erickson, Dementia, Dementia research, Gray matter volume, Cognitive impairment
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