Leisure activities prevent brain volume loss in older adults
Older adults who garden, swim, dance, walk or engage in other leisure activities may have larger brain volumes than inactive adults, according to research to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting.
“These results are exciting, as they suggest that people may potentially prevent brain shrinking and the effects of aging on the brain simply by becoming more active,” Yian Gu, PhD, assistant professor of neurological sciences at Columbia University, said in a press release.
Previous research has linked physical activity to brain volume, including one study that showed each additional hour of light physical activity was associated with increased brain volume.
Gu and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional study of 1,557 older adults with a mean age of 74.9 years to further evaluate the association between leisure time physical activity and MRI-assessed brain aging. Among the participants, 296 had mild cognitive impairment and 28% carried the Apolipoprotein E4 allele, which is associated with an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to the researchers.
Participants underwent physical examinations, thinking and memory tests and reported their typical daily tasks and any other physical activity. The researchers then calculated the metabolic equivalent of energy expenditure to determine participants’ level of physical activity. They also assessed participants’ MRIs to determine their total brain volume, gray matter volume, white matter volume and white matter hyperintensity volume.
After adjusting for age, gender, education, race/ethnicity and Apolipoprotein E4 allele presence, Gu and colleagues discovered that participants with the highest level of physical activity had larger total brain volume than those with the lowest levels of physical activity.
The average brain volume among those who were most active was 883 cm3, compared with an average volume of 871 cm3 in those who were inactive. According to the press release, this was a difference of about 1.4% of brain size — equivalent to almost 4 years of brain aging.
Participants with the highest level of physical activity also had larger total gray matter volume and total white matter volume. The researchers did not identify an association between physical activity and white matter hyperintensity volume.
The results were similar after the researchers excluded those with mild cognitive impairment.
“Our results add to the evidence that more physical activity is linked to larger brain volume in older people,” Gu said in the release. “It also builds on evidence that moving your body more often throughout one’s life may protect against loss of brain volume.” – by Erin Michael
Gu Y, et al. Leisure time physical activity and MRI-based brain measures in a multi-ethnic elderly cohort. Presented at: American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting; April 25-May 1, 2020; Toronto.
Disclosure: The study was supported by government-sponsored grants.