A recent issue of Neurology includes a research study on the relationship between physical activity and brain protection during aging. The amount of self-reported physical activity in 638 persons was correlated to brain health as visualized on MRI. The brains of those with a greater amount of physical activity showed less brain aging as measured by less atrophy (shrinkage), less loss of grey and white brain matter, and fewer hits (tiny holes) in white matter. While these hits, called hyperintensities on MRI, are often viewed as a normal part of aging, they most likely have underlying causes such as hypertension or neuroinflammation. This study provides evidence that they occur less frequently in people who are active.
Also, the commonly held belief that performing crossword puzzles keeps older people sharp was not supported in this study. As the BBC reports:
Exercise did not have to be strenuous - going for a walk several times a week sufficed, the journal Neurology says.
But giving the mind a workout by doing a tricky crossword had little impact.
The study found no real brain-size benefit from mentally challenging activities, such as reading a book, or other pastimes such as socializing with friends and family.
Take home: In the elderly, exercise beats puzzles for brain health.