Exercise May Help Keep Aging Brains Healthier Longer

Researchers at the University of Illinois have found a link between physical activity and improved brain health in old age. They conducted a week-long study of 88 people between the ages of 60 and 78, where they monitored their daily physical activity and how much time they spent sitting. Throughout the study, researchers examined the structural soundness of each participant’s white matter and concluded that there could be a link between brain health and exercising.

What is white matter?

The white matter of the brain is made up of fiber-like parts of neurons which allow different regions of the brain to communicate. Structurally sound white matter connects important areas in the brain and strengthens communication between these regions. To look at how structurally sound the white matter was, researchers examined brain scans of participants and looked for “white matter hyperintensities.” White matter hyperintensities are lesions that can lead to cognitive decline and behavioral impairments that are more common among older people.

Does exercise improve white matter?

Participants in the study were found to have more structurally sound white matter with increased physical activity. Those that led more sedentary lifestyles were more likely to have white matter hyperintensities. This link suggests that exercise could be beneficial for brain health.

How much exercise do you need to do?

It is recommended that older adults do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, per week. That’s about 10-20 minutes a day. Researchers also found that engaging in light physical activities, like housework and gardening, are related to healthier white matter in the temporal lobe, a brain region involved in memory and language. These findings show that exercising has the potential to counteract age-related changes in cognitive function and promote brain health in people of all ages.

Exercise is a key component to a healthy lifestyle, but eating right and staying mentally engaged are also required for a balanced lifestyle. Home Care Assistance has developed a research-based program, The Balanced Care Method™, that aligns with these values to extend and enhance the lives of seniors, helping them live longer, happier, more balanced lives.