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Brains of older people who keep fit more likely to keep firing on all cylinders

"Exercise regularly in a way that gets you out of breath and sweaty."

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By Jim Leffman via SWNS

The brains of older people who keep fit are more likely to continue firing on all cylinders, scientists have found.

Seniors who keep fit are less likely to experience cognitive decline, (SWNS)

Seventy to 80-year-olds who regularly break a sweat are less likely to suffer from mental decline, according to a new study.

While adults aged 65 and over are advised to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week, many fall short of the mark.

About 38% of men and 41% of women are considered to be obese in the United States. This is twice as many as three decades ago.

Now scientists in Norway have found keeping in shape could protect the brain from old age and illnesses like dementia.

Author doctoral student Ekaterina Zotcheva at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology said: "Our findings suggest that being fit can protect against mild cognitive impairment in older people.

"The men and women who had maintained or increased their physical fitness during the study had better brain health than those whose fitness had declined over the five years."

Data from the world's largest training study for older adults dubbed Generation 100 was analyzed by the researchers.

Ms. Zotcheva said: "The Generation 100 study has been going on for almost ten years now.

"After the study participants had been exercising for five years, we tested the cognitive function of almost 1000 of them.”

Participants were given a cognitive test similar to those used to check whether people are at risk of developing dementia.

Happy senior man celebrating with raised arm after working out at home.
Some participants in the study who stayed fit actually improved their cognitive scores. (True Touch Lifestyle/Shutterstock)

It measured their mental skills, also known as executive function, short-term memory and ability to orientate themselves.

Ms. Zotcheva said: "We know that mild cognitive impairment can lead to dementia for some individuals.

"The greater the increase in a participant’s fitness level during the five years of the study, the lower their probability of developing mild cognitive impairment."

Participants in the study from the city of Trondheim aged between 70 and 77 performed various kinds of exercise over five years after they joined in 2012.

One group did high-intensity intervals, while the second did moderate-intensity exercises like walking and the third followed official guidance to be physically active for at least 150 minutes each week.

The first two groups were followed closely by the researchers and were offered two organized training sessions a week.

Ms. Zotcheva said: "Our results show that organized training follow-up may have given older men, but not older women, better cognitive function and lowered the probability of mild cognitive impairments.

"But all in all, it seems that the most important thing is that you actually train in a way that increases your fitness, regardless of whether you get organized help to be physically active or not."

Despite differences between the groups, all participants experienced less brain loss than expected for people in their 70s.

Co-author Professor Asta Håberg said: "The groups that were able to attend organized training didn’t perform any better than the group that trained on their own on various tasks, such as remembering where an object is located, memorizing words, processing information quickly or planning."

The majority of participants were just as sharp after five years as when they started the study, with some even improving their cognitive test scores.

The findings come after two other studies by the university found regular exercise can help keep the brain turning over.

In these studies, the brain health of 100 participants were tested at the start of the Generation 100 study and after one, three and five years of training.

Professor Håberg said: "Participants who were in good shape, both when the study started and later in the study, had a faster reaction time.

"The ones who improved their fitness level gained a somewhat better working memory."

The researchers developed a web-based platform called Memoro to test the participants' ability to solve mental problems.

In the third study, MRI scans were performed to see how the brain volume and thickness of the cerebral cortex - outer layer, changed over time.

Professor Håberg said: "Participants who were in good shape when the study started had a thicker cerebral cortex after one, three and five years, as compared with those who had lower maximum oxygen uptake.

"But we didn’t find any effect from increasing fitness during the study."

This suggests the brain benefits appear to be greatest for people who enter retirement age in good shape.

Ms. Zotcheva said: "Several paths can lead to that goal, and the most important factor is to find an activity you enjoy and can continue with over time.

"In order to maintain or increase your fitness, you should, in any case, exercise regularly in a way that gets you out of breath and sweaty."

The findings were published in the Sports Medicine journal.

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