AFP Published Wednesday, August 3, 2016 9:30AM EDT

man-running

It is never too late get involved in physical activity, and new research has found that regular physical activity in older adults could increase brain size and decrease the risk of cognitive decline.

Researchers from UCLA, Calif.,  used the landmark Framingham Heart Study to look at an association between exercise, brain volume and the risk of developing dementia. It looked at common characteristics that contribute to heart disease, but since it started back in 1948 it has also looked at factors that contribute to other physiological conditions including dementia.

The team examined the physical activity levels from

The team looked at an association between physical activity and the risk of developing all types of dementia in 3,700 participants from both the original group of participants in the Framingham Heart Study as well as their offspring who were aged 60 or over.  MRI brain scans, from a further 2,063 participants from the offspring group only, were studied for an association between physical activity and total brain and hippocampal volume.

The participants, who did not suffer from dementia at the start of the study, were followed for more than a decade.

The results showed that there was an association between a low level of physical activity and a higher risk for dementia in older individuals, and that physical activity had a positive effect on brain volume, in particular on the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain involved in short-term memory.   The positive effects of exercise were found to be strongest in people age 75 and older.

More research needs to be done to understand the intensity and duration of physical activity needed in order to slow down brain changes that occur with age. However with the results showing the health benefits of exercise in old age, they believe that it is never too late get involved in physical activity.

These findings were published in the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.

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