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15-08-2011 | Psychology | Article

Physical activity slows cognitive decline


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MedWire News: Two new studies highlight the benefits of physical activity in preventing age-related cognitive decline.

In the first, researchers showed that women with vascular disease in the lowest levels of physical activity experience significantly more pronounced cognitive decline than women who are more physically active.

"Participating in the two highest quintiles of physical activity was cognitively equivalent to being 5 to 7 years younger," report Marie-Noel Vercambre (Mutuelle Generale de l'Education Nationale, Paris, France) and colleagues in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study involved a large cohort of women with prevalent vascular disease or at least three coronary risk factors.

Older individuals with cardiovascular disease are known to be at significantly higher risk for cognitive impairment than those without vascular disease.

A total of 2809 women aged 65 years and older underwent cognitive testing, including five tests of global cognition, verbal memory, and fluency. The tests were given three further times over an average follow-up of 5.4 years.

The researchers observed a significant trend toward decreasing rates of cognitive decline with increasing energy expenditure.

In a multivariable-adjusted model, greater physical activity was significantly associated with slower declines in the global cognition score and verbal memory score, but not the category fluency score.

The researchers observed statistically significant differences in global cognition in women in the fourth and fifth quintiles of energy expenditure.

This is the equivalent of walking 30 minutes or more every day at a brisk pace, according to Vercambre and colleagues.

Similarly, another research team showed that greater energy expenditure with physical activity was protective against cognitive impairment in a cohort of men and women.

Also published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Laura Middleton (Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada) and colleagues calculated active energy expenditure (AEE) in 197 men and women with an average age of 74.8 years.

After adjusting for multiple variables, including mental health, the researchers observed a 91% lower risk for incident cognitive impairment among patients who exercised the most compared with those who exercised the least.

A dose-response relationship between AEE and incidence of cognitive impairment was also observed.

Middleton and colleagues are say that although the low-intensity activity of daily living may be protective, the relative benefits of low, moderate, and intense exercise still need be to be clarified.

In an editorial accompanying the studies, Eric Larson (Group Health Research Institute, Seattle, Washington, USA) states that there is now a growing body of evidence that habitual activity also has a beneficial effect on aging brains.

Research should focus on effective ways to change behavior to promote habitual physical activity, ideally throughout life, but especially in middle and late life, he writes.

By MedWire Reporters

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