A study presented Wednesday at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting suggests that regular physical exercise may offer a protective benefit against mild cognitive impairment.
How cognitively impaired are we talking here? Think forgetting where you left your keys, remembering events, appointments, or to check Mark’s Daily Apple every day (as if you could ever forget that!) or recalling the details of a conversation.
Conducted as part of an ongoing study of aging, researchers from the Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic surveyed 868 people ages 70 to 89 about their exercise habits between ages 50 and 65. Researchers also screened all participants for signs of mild cognitive impairment.
According to the study, those that reported participating in moderate exercise such as brisk walking one to five times per week were less likely to experience cognitive impairment problems than their peers who exercised less. However, the researchers note that cognitive impairment did not appear to be influenced by exercise activity within the previous year.
Speculating on the mechanism behind the link, the study’s lead author suggests that “exercise induces chemicals that protect brain cells, or exercise is simply a marker for an overall healthy lifestyle, or there is some positive interaction among exercise, healthy lifestyle and intellectually stimulating activity.”
Acknowledging his rather shaky opinion regarding the link, he calls for further research to explore the findings.
Groundbreaking stuff? Well, no, not really. But it does add to the growing body of research suggesting that the benefits of exercise extend beyond physical health. In fact, these findings are likely to prove especially pertinent to the growing legions of baby boomers who, if the study’s findings are correct, could benefit tremendously from starting a regular exercise routine to stave off some of the cognitive declines associated with aging. In addition, while a long track record of physical activity is certainly preferential, the study suggests that even adopting an exercise routine in your 60s can yield significant benefits in the future.
So, the next time you’re pondering where you left your keys or why on earth you would put your cell phone in your shoe, consider logging a few extra trips around the block. You’ll thank us (because you will remember to) later down the road!