Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: More evidence that exercise aids the brain

Some memory loss is normal as people age (as any middle-aged person who has spent an hour looking for misplaced car keys can attest). But by age 65, more than half of adults say they are concerned about memory problems. Although it is still impossible to prevent neurological disorders that contribute to memory loss, such as Alzheimer's disease and most other dementias, one study adds to the evidence that engaging in regular physical exercise protects against normal age-related memory decline.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh recruited 120 adults, ages 55 to 80, and randomly assigned them to one of two groups. One group walked briskly for 40 minutes per day, three times a week, while the other performed stretching exercises for the same amount of time.

One year later, participants in both groups were more physically fit than they were when the study began, but the walkers improved significantly more than those who did stretching exercises. Likewise, while scores on a memory test improved in both groups, the walking group improved more than the other group.

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