Simple Daily Movement May Improve Brain Health

As we’ve discussed before, scientists don’t really know how to best protect your brain as you age. But maybe the answer is as simple as doing your laundry, walking around the house, or even making your bed! That’s what new research out of Rush Medical Center suggests.

Skip the Gym, Just Keep Moving(?)
In the new study, researchers studied 454 older adults (263 participants did not have dementia, while 191 did). Participants committed to an annual medical checkup that included 21 types of thinking and memory tests, and they even donated their brains for research. The researchers measured daily physical activity (everyday movements, such as running errands, to more intense exercises like hiking) for 10 days and summarized it into an average daily activity score. They found that people with higher average daily activity scores maintained better memory and thinking skills over time. This was even true in people who had signs of Alzheimer’s Disease in their brains (neuronal cell loss, abnormal proteins, blood clots, or other abnormalities in the brain).

Really… Skip the Gym?
Well, maybe not. Keep in mind that this is an observational study. This means that researchers just recorded the participants’ actions over several years, rather than studying them in a controlled trial (giving some people more activities and others less). As a result, this isn’t definitive proof that daily physical activity reverses preexisting signs of cognitive decline or prevents the development of brain related illnesses. Still, this study does suggest that any type of daily physical activity may slow the rate of cognitive decline (you don’t have to run marathons!). And even though scientists can’t say exactly how to best protect your brain health as you age, studies like this give us some idea of what may help by identifying factors that are common in people who maintain their brain health longer. For example, there is good evidence from other studies suggesting that exercising a few days a week can prevent brain shrinkage. And even diet plays a major role in brain health; evidence that suggests eating more greens and more fish with omega-3s may help keep your brain healthy and decrease your risk for Alzheimer’s disease.


Tara Talebi-Talghian

Tara Talebi-Talghian is an intern with the Healthy Aging Project, and a student in the Integrative Physiology Department at the University of Colorado Boulder.