There’s mounting evidence that being active as you age has health benefits. A new study shows older people may preserve their mobility and brain function by having a more active lifestyle.
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Stay active for brain health
“Use it, or lose it,” geriatric specialist Ronan Factora, MD says. “The more activity you do, the better off your brain function.”
Researchers from Rush University Medical Center used MRI scans of 167 people in their eighties to determine brain damage as a natural result of aging. Participants also wore a movement monitor to measure daily activity.
The scans detect small areas of brain damage that are common in elders and known to cause mobility dysfunction, like trouble walking.
Study results showed that people who were the most active had no ill effects on mobility despite having these areas of brain damage.
“We know that the more brain damage you have, the more motor problems you’re likely to experience,” Dr. Factora says.
People who were least active had more mobility problems related to brain damage.
The more you move, Dr. Factora says, the less likely the brain damage is going to affect you.
People who maintained high activity levels – those who moved around most frequently in addition to exercise – had the highest levels of mobility function. These people who stayed active greater than 2.5 hours more than other high-performing participants saw the most benefit.
On the flip side, if you’re inactive and spend most of your day sitting and watching television, the relationship between the MRI findings and problems with mobility function became stronger.
“There is a detriment to being sedentary,” Dr. Factora says.
The best medicine out there
Dr. Factora suggests keeping yourself busy at home, walking through the park, and spending time with friends.
“Having plans during the week ensures you’ll have something to do – something to make you get up and move,” he says.
While high-intensity workouts are a plus, even moving at low-intensity is beneficial.
Exercise has also been shown to maintain brain function and help with your mood.
Physical activity and exercise can also help manage high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, so the more active you are the better.
“It’s the best medicine out there,” Dr. Factora says. “There’s no pill that can actually substitute for being physically active.”