August 3, 2016

Exercise Results in Larger Brain Size, Lowered Dementia Risk

LOS ANGELES -- August 3, 2016 -- Using the landmark Framingham Heart Study to assess how physical activity affects the size of the brain and a person’s risk for developing dementia, researchers found an association between low physical activity and a higher risk for dementia in older individuals.

The findings, published in the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, suggest that regular physical activity for older adults could lead to higher brain volumes and a reduced risk for developing dementia.

Zaldy Tan, MD, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, and colleagues found that physical activity particularly affected the size of the hippocampus.

In addition, the protective effect of regular physical activity against dementia was strongest in people aged 75 years and older.

Though some previous studies have found an inverse relationship between levels of physical activity and cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, others have failed to find such an association.

The Framingham study was begun in 1948 primarily as a way to trace factors and characteristics leading to cardiovascular disease, but also examining dementia and other physiological conditions.

For the current study, the UCLA researchers followed an older, community-based cohort from the Framingham study for more than a decade to examine the association between physical activity and the risk for incident dementia and subclinical brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) markers of dementia.

The researchers assessed the physical activity indices for both the original Framingham cohort and their offspring who were aged 60 years and older. They examined the association between physical activity and risk of any form of dementia (regardless of the cause) and Alzheimer’s disease for 3,700 participants from both cohorts who were cognitively intact. They also examined the association between physical activity and brain MRI in about 2,000 participants from the offspring cohort.

Over a decade of follow-up, 236 participants developed dementia (188 Alzheimer’s dementia). Participants with the lowest levels of physical activity had an increased risk of incident dementia compared with those with higher levels of physical activity. Physical activity also related to total brain and hippocampal volumes.

SOURCE: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Health Sciences
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