Reducing brain aging may be as simple as light physical activity

Even healthy brains age and that aging process is associated with a number of issues, including problems with working memory and, in worst case scenarios, the development of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. A large body of research has looked for ways to reduce brain aging, some involving diets, others focusing on broader lifestyle factors and even medication. The latest study among this research points toward something simple, free, and readily available: light, consistent exercise.

It's known that people who exercise on a regular basis are more likely to experience healthy brain aging, but questions have remained over what level of exercise is necessary to get these potential benefits. Individuals who remain active have lower risk factors associated with dementia and general cognitive decline.

A new analysis that looked at data from the Framingham Heart Study found a link between light intensity physical activity and reduced brain aging. Every hour of additional light exercise performed weekly was associated with a reduction in brain aging equivalent to more than one year. This is good news for those who can't — or won't — exercise at higher intensities.

Talking about the results was Boston University School of Medicine research assistant professor Nicole Spartano, PhD, who said:

Every additional hour of light intensity physical activity was associated with higher brain volumes, even among individuals not meeting current Physical Activity-Guidelines. These data are consistent with the notion that potential benefits of physical activity on brain aging may accrue at a lower, more achievable level of intensity or volume.

The 2018 Physical Activity-Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get more than 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity every week for ideal health benefits, though any activity is better than none.