Brain Health: Put Down That Puzzle and Go For a Walk

elderly-coupleA 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.

About John Oró, MD

I am a neurosurgeon and currently direct The Neurosurgery Center of Colorado and The Chiari Care Center in Aurora, Colorado. In addition to providing surgical services for persons with neurosurgical disorders, we advise many of our patients to return to the original human diet.

Member & Partner Events

Are you a physician or healthcare practitioner
that advocates ancestral health & nutrition?

Sign-Up & Get Listed on Primal Docs

Visit Our Sponsors

Find Out More About Sponsorship Opportunities


This article is for informational purposes only, and is educational in nature. Statements made here have not been evaluated by the FDA. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please discuss with your own, qualified health care provider before adding in supplements or making any changes in your diet.

  • Deane Alban

    Walking has been shown to be better for the brain than more strenuous forms of exercise. (Perhaps too many free radicals produced?) One problem with doing the crossword puzzle everyday is that eventually you get very good at it, and then it stops stimulating the brain. The brain creates new brain cells when an activity is “novel and complex”.