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Study: Choose running vs. walking for better brain health

Bicyclists, runners and swimmers did better with cognitive

Bicyclists, runners and swimmers did better with cognitive tasks in a long-term study than gardeners or walkers. Photo Credit: TNS / Marsha Halper

A little yoga, a good jog, even a round of tennis is likely to keep your mind sharper and more focused, a study conducted by the University of Miami and Columbia University has found.

It’s especially the case if you’re a senior.

“Our results suggest that moderate to intense exercise may help older people delay aging in the brain,” said the study’s author Dr. Clinton B. Wright, associate professor of neurology, the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami.

The decadelong study, published in a recent online issue of Neurology, looked at more than 1,200 people at first and asked them about their physical activity in the two weeks leading up to the interview. Five years later, 876 members of that group returned and were given memory and thinking tests and an MRI.

Five years later, those that returned took the tests again. The finding: The memory and thinking ability of those who did more physical exercise — runners, bicyclists or swimmers compared with walkers or gardeners — deteriorated at a much slower rate than their counterparts.

Essentially, said Wright and his cohorts, the deterioration meant a person who does more physical work has the memory and thinking capacity of someone who is 10 years younger. “This is another study that provides more evidence that moderate to heavy physical activity is good for the brain,” said Wright, the Evelyn F. McKnight Chair for Learning and Memory in Aging. “And it’s probably a good idea to engage in those activities.”

The 10-year study took place in the northern end of Manhattan and the demographic makeup of those who took part matched the local population. The average age of the participants was 71 when the study began. Sixty percent of them were Hispanic, 20 percent were white and 20 percent were black.

The cognitive decline study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Health Institute.

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