Julian Omidi is cofounder of the charitable organization No More Poverty with his brother Dr. Michael Omidi. No More Poverty seeks to end global deprivation by supporting small charities who are already working to eradicate it. In this article, Julian Omidi discusses a recent study that suggests physical exercise may help prevent brain atrophy as we grow older.
As we age, it is important to keep our physical and mental faculties strong. This is thought to be achieved by engaging in social activities, reading, solving puzzles and getting regular exercise. However, a new study seems to suggest that physical exercise may play a greater role in reducing brain shrinkage than we previously thought.
In an observational study conducted in Edinburgh, researchers followed a group of 70-year-olds who engaged in varying levels of physical and leisure activities. It was determined that, after three years, the amount of brain atrophy was significantly lower in the subjects that exercised regularly than the subjects who were largely sedentary, but did engage in leisure activities such as crossword puzzles and regular reading.
The subjects’ brains were analyzed on MRI scanners, and tracked the amount of grey matter load, normally occurring white matter load, atrophy and white lesion load. The participants who exercised regularly displayed a low level of white lesion load and atrophy—conditions that are connected to Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss.
Although further testing must be done (it isn’t known what actually causes the erosion, and if exercise can correct it once it begins) and the sample of participants was small, it can be concluded that exercise is certainly a worthwhile endeavor no matter what your age. But should we dismiss the merits of brain exercise?
There have been cognitive studies that seem to suggest that memory games, puzzles and social engagements do prevent the accumulation of brain plaque, which is present in those with Alzheimer’s disease. Subjects that have engaged in mental exercises consistently from their early adulthood into later life exhibited low amounts of brain plaque and higher mental sharpness than those who did not. Interestingly, physical exercise did not seem to affect the onset of brain plaque.
As we live to increasingly older ages, the management of cognitive abilities is paramount in keeping older adults functioning and independent members of society. The studies may not be by any means conclusive, but it still can be surmised that keeping active and engaged as long as possible can only benefit society at large.
 Gow, Alan J, PhD: “Neuroprotective lifestyles and the aging brain: Activity, atrophy, and white matter integrity” Neurology 6/12/2012 http://www.neurology.org/content/79/17/1802.abstract?sid=e573c7aa-3451-4154-a21b-2a0558023ae4
 Landau, Susan M, PhD “Association of Lifetime Cognitive Engagement and Low β-Amyloid Deposition” The JAMA Network Archives of Neurology May, 2012 http://archneur.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1149704