Researchers in Toronto and San Francisco studied exercise habits in 9,344 women. The women reported on their physical activity levels during various life stages. The stages were teenage, age 30, age 50 and late life. They found women who were physically active had less cognitive impairment when they were older than women who reported being inactive at each of the life stages.
For example, for older women who reported being active as teenagers, 8.5% had cognitive impairment compared with 16.7% who reported not being physically active at that time. Those who were active at age 30 had 8.9% cognitive impairment, and inactive 12%. At age 50 8.5% of those who were active had cognitive impairment, while 13.1% of the inactive did. In the category of old age, 8.2% of the active had cognitive impairment, compared to 15.9% of the inactive.
It was determined the least cognitive impairment was associated with physical activity begun in the teenage years. Less cognitive impairment in old age was associated with physical activity at any of the life stages. The logical conclusion of the research is that physical activity at any stage of life could reduce cognitive impairment in the later years, including the senior phase.
Laura E. Middleton, the lead study author said, “early life physical activity is important to late-life health and in particular in preventing late-life cognitive impairment. The sooner you start being physically active, the better it is.”
The researchers did point out their study does not prove there is a direct link between lifelong exercise and less dementia in senior women. They are still exploring the possibility of a connection, but at this time the exact relationship is not understood. The point of their research was to try and find out if there is a connection between physical activity levels at a young age and throughout lifespans, and mental decline in old age.
If exercise early in life does have a cause and effect link to decreased mental decline, Middleton speculated it might be related to the plasticity of the brain. The human brain is thought to have a capacity for growing new networks, and changing, depending on what it experiences (new learning, exercise, stress ). Regular exercise also might help with the health of blood vessels in the brain.
Image Credit: DaveyNin