Physical Activity May Prevent or Slow Cognitive Decline Study Finds Greatest Benefit for Women Who Were Active as Teenagers Women Who Become Active Later in Life Also Benefit
Since more and more people are expected to experience dementia in the future, due to increased longevity and other factors, researchers are actively seeking ways to prevent or at least delay mental decline.
To date, various studies have shown that being inactive increases your risk for experiencing cognitive decline and dementia. What researchers didn't know, however, was how physical activity during your teenage years or younger adulthood affects cognitive ability in your later years. This is the first study to examine how physical activity at several points during a woman's life impacts her thinking ability as an older adult.
New Research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
To find out, researchers studied 9,344 women, aged 65 and over, who previously had been enrolled in an osteoporosis study. For the physical activity study, the women answered questions about the frequency and intensity of their physical activity during their teen years, at ages 30 and 50, and how active they were at the time of the study. Each woman also took a brief test to evaluate her memory, concentration, and other measures of cognitive function.
"Women who reported being physically active at any point over the life course, and especially at teenage, have lower likelihood of cognitive impairment later in life," reported the researchers in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The researchers discovered that women who were inactive as teenagers were twice as likely to suffer serious cognitive impairment as the women who were physically active in their teen years: 16.7 percent of those who were inactive as teens became cognitively impaired as older adults, compared to 8.5 percent of women who were active as teens. Of the women who became active after aged 65, 8.2 percent became cognitively impaired compared to 15.9 percent who remained inactive.
What Should I Do?
Know this: It's never too late to become active. "Women who remain sedentary have nearly twice the chance of cognitive impairment as do women who are active," says lead study author Laura E. Middleton, PhD, of the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Canada.
Before embarking on a new exercise program, check with your physician to make sure it's safe for you to do so. "For the vast majority of people, the benefits of exercise far outweigh the risks," says Dr. Middleton. Other tips: Choose an exercise you enjoy, and if you're learning something new or exercising with a partner or a group, so much the better. "Social support and mental stimulation are linked to a lower risk of cognitive impairment," adds Dr. Middleton.
The summary above is from the full report titled, "Physical Activity Over the Life Course and Its Association with Cognitive Performance and Impairment in Old Age." It is in the July issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (VOL 58 ISSUE7) The report is authored by Laura E. Middleton, PhD, Deborah E. Barnes, PhD, Li-Yung Lui, MS, and Kristine Yaffe, PhD.