Fitness May Help Older Minds Stay Sharp

Chalk another point up for physical fitness: It may help the mind age better.

Scientists in Scotland report that news in Neurology.

The University of Edinburgh’s Ian Deary, PhD, and colleagues studied 460 Scottish elders who were 79 years old and didn't have dementia.

Decades earlier, when the elders were 11 years old, they had taken a mental skills test that mainly covered verbal reasoning, with some questions that gauged numerical and spatial skills.

They repeated the same mental skills test at age 79.

The elders also took three fitness tests:

--Timed walk of nearly 20 feet

--Grip strength in their dominant hand (best of three trials)

--Lung function (amount of air forcibly exhaled in one second)

Better Late Than Never for Exercise

Fit Bodies, Sharp Minds

Elders with the highest fitness scores were the most likely to have scored similarly on the mental skills test at ages 11 and 79.

The results held after adjusting for other factors such as smoking, education, social class, and a form of the ApoE gene that’s been linked to greater odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Participants only took the fitness test when they were 79 years old. So it’s not clear if they had been physically fit throughout their lives.

The study doesn’t show whether the elders worked out or stayed active without a formal exercise program.

Future studies should test whether fitness helps the brain age well, the researchers note. Meanwhile, there’s no reason not to be active -- at any age -- with your doctor’s permission.

Finding a Personal Fitness Trainer

Active at Any Age

The CDC recommends that all adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on five or more days per week.

Get your doctor’s approval if you’re new to exercise.

Aerobic endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility are all important for older adults, states the CDC’s web site.

The CDC offers these ideas:

--Aerobic activities: Walking, swimming, dancing, skating, hiking, rolling a wheelchair

--Strength: Lifting weights or cans, carrying laundry or groceries, gardening, doing strength exercises while sitting in a chair

--Flexibility: Stretching, yoga, tai chi

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By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Deary, I. Neurology, Oct. 10, 2006; vol 67: pp 1195-1200. CDC: “Physical Activity for Everyone: Recommendations: Older Adults.” News release, American Academy of Neurology.