The National Institute on Aging calls the dramatic increase in average life expectancy during the 20th century one of society’s greatest achievements. The average is still growing; the number of people over age 65 is projected to increase by 188% through 2050, and those 85 and older is expected to rise by 351%. Along with these increases comes the possible rise in cases of age-related mental decline. Some experts suggest that the global incidence of dementia could more than triple in the next 35 years, so what can you do to protect your brain health? New studies conclude that that exercising and staying active may be your mental fountain of youth.

Exercise for Brain Health?

Earlier this year, a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease concluded that regular activity a few times a week substantially reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. Researchers at UCLA and other institutions analyzed information from the Cardiovascular Health Study, which was started in 1989 and has evaluated almost 6,000 women and men. Not only did subjects undergo medical and cognitive testing, they also filled out questionnaires about their physical activity, daily lives, and had MRI scans of their brains at the start. The data for nearly 900 subjects helped researchers conclude that participants in the highest quartile of reported weekly caloric expenditure proved to have substantially more gray matter than their peers, and a 50% lower risk of having experienced memory decline.

Why Gray Matters

While staying active has long been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke, leveling blood glucose levels and reducing stress, the research is very promising in terms of brain health. The scans of active individuals in the study proved that in the parts of the brain related to memory and higher-level thinking, more gray matter was present, which is generally equated with greater brain health and mental acuity. Even more impressive was that in the few cases where participants’ physical activity levels actually increased over a five year period, notable increases in gray matter volume were shown on follow up MRI scans. That means it’s never too late to start building your mental muscles by exercising.

“For the purposes of brain health, it looks like it’s a very good idea to stay as physically active as possible,” says Cyrus Raji, a radiology resident at U.C.L.A., who led the study. He explains that “physical activity” is a flexible term in the study, and could include gardening, dancing, walking, cycling, and other calorie-burning activities even just a few times per week. Further research might show whether exercising is remodeling the brain, perhaps by reducing inflammation or the risk of vascular diseases, and the results can only benefit our aging global population.

Is Chronic Back or Joint Pain keeping you from staying active?

Have you experienced a decline in your activity levels because an injury or chronic pain is holding you back? At Advanced Wellness and Rehab, our goal and mission is to help you experience a pain free life again. Contact us today to learn how we will address the source of your injury, and facilitate a return to stable and pain-free activity through the use of physical and massage therapies and chiropractic care.