A recent study has revealed that physical activity in healthy older adults may act as a protection from brain damage and aid in preserving motor function.
An aging population brings a growing worry at both a personal and societal level.
The average life span may be increasing however; the rate that we age is not.
We may be living longer but we are not aging more slowly.
Motor impairment seen in the elderly is commonplace in society and accompanies a diverse array of unfavorable health outcomes.
As our population ages the elderly require a greater level of care and public health efforts are already in place in order to keep the elderly as physically and mentally active for as long as possible. Aging decreases our motor function and cognition.
Now, researchers at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Centre in Illinois, Chicago, have shown that the most physically active participants of their study did not have reduced motor function.
This was despite the results from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which showed that they had high levels of age-related brain damage in the form of White Matter Hyperintensities.
White Matter Hyperintensities (WMH) are areas that show up on MRI scans as patches of very bright signal or 'white spots' and are believed to be areas of damage in the brain.
As we age, WMH increase in our brain and have been associated with impaired movement such as difficulties with walking and steadiness.
The study, led by Dr Fleischman, involved 167 healthy adults with an average age of 80 years, who were asked to wear movement detectors on their wrists for eleven days.
Each of the participants' mobile ability was tested and individual MRI scans were done to assess the volume of WMH in their brains.
This was done in order to equalise the participants before the study started and to account for any variables, such as body mass index and vascular disease, which could interfere with the results.
It was discovered that higher levels of physical activity reduced the effect of WMH burden on motor function in the participants.
Those with the highest physical activity levels were unaffected by their WMH burden whilst those with the least physical activity showed reduced motor function associated with a high WMH burden.
Although there is much work still being carried out within this study, it highlights the need for physical activity at every age in order to protect our motor function from WMH in our brains.
Previous studies have shown that older persons with higher levels of education, social networks, and purpose in life have much better cognitive function.
This particular study highlights the need to be physically and mentally active for as long as we can.
Our older selves might thank us for it one day!
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