Exercise may reduce risk of movement problems linked to age-related brain damage

Posted on 11th March 2015

Neurology: Physical activity, motor function, and white matter hyperintensity burden in healthy older adults

Researchers in the US have suggested that older people who take part in daily physical activity may be reducing the likelihood of movement problems linked to small areas of blood vessel damage in the brain. These small points of damage show up on MRI brain scans as so- called ‘white matter hyperintensities’ and commonly form in our brains as we age.

The study involved 167 people over 60 who wore wrist-mounted movement monitors to precisely record activity levels for up to 11 days. The participants also underwent MRI scans, to measure the amount of brain tissue showing white matter hyperintensities, and a series of tests to assess movement abilities.

The results showed that for less active participants, having more points of brain tissue damage was associated with more movement problems. However, for the most active participants, the amount of brain tissue showing white matter hyperintensities wasn’t linked with movement difficulties. The researchers suggested that increased physical activity may be compensating for the movement problems that would otherwise be brought on by the damage.

Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK said:

“This study showed that older people who engage in daily activity equivalent to walking for an hour and a half, are less likely to develop movement problems related to small areas of blood vessel damage in the brain. While the study showed that more active people had fewer of these movement problems, more research will be needed before we can say whether this is a direct result of exercise or whether other factors might be at play.

“The kind of brain tissue damage examined in this study has, in the past, been linked to Alzheimer’s disease but this study did not look into this relationship and only recruited participants without dementia. The research adds to existing evidence that exercise can help to maintain brain health as we age. Other lifestyle factors shown to help keep our brains healthy include not smoking, only drinking within recommended limits, eating a balanced diet and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check.”


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