I know I talk a lot about exercise — almost as much as I talk about how sugar kills. I can’t help it: there are just so many incredible studies on the health benefits of exercise.
And considering Americans are less active today than ever before, I feel it’s my duty to share the results of these studies every chance I get.
For instance, according to a new study, older people who exercise benefit from slower rates of age-related cognitive decline. Not a ground-breaking finding by itself, mind you. In fact, I reported on three clinical trials revealing the incredible brain benefits of exercise late last year.
But believe me, this new study is really exciting — not to mention a very serious wake-up call. Because it shows that sedentary people’s brains age 10 or more years faster than their more active counterparts.
Yes… I said ten years.
The study followed nearly 900 subjects participating in the Northern Manhattan Study.
Researchers analyzed self-reported data on subjects’ exercise habits during the two weeks prior to the study.
A whopping 90 percent of this group reported light or no exercise. (In this case, “light exercise” included low-intensity activities like yoga and walking.)
All of these subjects were lumped together in the “low activity” group. Which, for the record, I take issue with. There’s a big difference between walking for 20 minutes every day, and doing nothing at all. And plenty of research shows that even just a few minutes of low-impact exercise — like taking a walk around the block — can do a lot for your memory.
But considering the current U.S. statistics — and patients’ tendency to overestimate their activity levels — I think it’s fair to assume that the majority of the people in this “low-activity” group actually represented a “NO-activity” group. So I’m willing to let this particular case of broad-brushing slide.
The other ten percent were assigned to the “high-activity” group. These subjects reported regular moderate- to high-intensity activity — like running, resistance training, or aerobics.
Seven years after collecting this data, researchers administered brain MRIs and cognitive tests — assessing factors like word recall and simple task performance — to each subject. And another five years after that, each of the subjects took the cognitive tests again.
Here’s what the study authors found: Among the subjects without any sign of memory trouble at the study’s outset, cognitive test results showed that lower activity was linked with a faster rate of decline after five years.
And I mean a much faster rate of decline.
Compared to their more active counterparts, the low-activity subjects suffered brain changes equivalent to ten extra years of aging. And this cognitive deficit remained even after researchers accounted for memory-robbing differences in smoking habits, alcohol use, blood pressure, and BMI.
On the flip side of that same coin, these results indicate that exercise alone is enough to stall brain aging by as much as a decade.
With the U S. population growing older every day, I think it’s safe to say that this is one topic that bears revisiting — as often as it takes. Because while we’ve gotten really good at keeping people alive, keeping them healthy is quite a different story.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to stop writing and head to the gym, lest I forget how I wanted to finish this sentence.
All kidding aside — and pardon the pun — exercise is a no-brainer. You already know it can extend your life. But as this study shows, staying active can also prolong the quality of your life for decades to come — and who doesn’t want that?