The New Year is already here, and a small recent study suggests that older adults interested in preserving brain health may have to add to their list of purposes, walking.
Why? A team of researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) found that adults over 60 who already have memory difficulties are better able to focus and process information if they walk more than 4,000 steps a day (around 2 miles [3.2 kilometers]).
"We observed how physical activity affects the thickness of brain structures and also the cognitive performance [of thinking] of adults over 60 years of age," explained the study's author, Prabha Siddarth.
Siddarth noted that brain thickness is considered "an early and sensitive marker of brain health."
The study revealed that in those who walked more than 4,000 steps a day, areas of the brain that are known to be essential for thought processing were thicker.
In addition, those avid walkers demonstrated a "better cognitive functioning" than those who walked 4,000 steps or less, he said.
Siddarth is a biostatistician in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences of the Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and of the Center for Longevity at UCLA.
To explore the potential benefits that walking has for mental health, the team focused on 26 men and women from 61 to 88 years of age. Almost 70 percent were women.
Although none suffered from dementia, everyone complained of memory problems.
For one week, everyone used an accelerometer to track activity patterns.
Then the participants were divided into two groups: those who walked more than 4,000 steps a day, and those who walked less. (The least active group was older, with an average age of 77 years, compared to the most active group, with an average age of 68).
In addition, MRIs were performed and each participant underwent a battery of mental health tests to assess memory skills, learning skills, verbal skills, attention and information processing skills, the function of making decisions and the ability to execute a task.
The researchers found that those who walked more than 4,000 steps a day had thicker brain measurements in the hippocampus area and the surrounding regions. Collectively, larger brain thicknesses in those regions have been linked earlier with better thinking and better memory.
In terms of the speed of information processing, the ability to pay attention and the ability to make plans and meet goals, those in the group of more than 4,000 steps also demonstrated a "substantial" advantage over the least mobile group, said Siddarth. although the degree of the benefit varied.
But he said it remains unclear if walking even more (beyond 4,000 steps) could improve mental health more. "It's something we're working on, to see if more exercise leads to more improvement, and also to see if measures of brain thickness reflect it," said Siddarth.
The study authors noted that the finding is an association, rather than a test that walking daily actually protects the brain.
Adam Woods, assistant director of the Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory (CAM) at the University of Florida in Gainesville, echoed this last point.
"I think you have to be careful in interpreting [these] results as causal," Woods said. He added that the findings come from a small group of people whose activity patterns only correlated with brain function, rather than showing that they affected it.
Woods also noted that "none of these findings is novel," previous work has shown that people with higher physical activity have correlated differences in brain volume and cognitive performance, he said.
Woods, who is also director of CAM's Neurophysiology and Neuromodulation Research Center at the McKnight Brain Institute, said that "these results suffer from the classic mystery of 'the hen or the egg.' Did more walking lead to greater volume in the hippocampus and a better cognition in these people, or a better cognition and a greater volume in the hippocampus encouraged their greater physical activity? ".
So, for now, he concluded, the finding "does not address in any way whether physical activity could improve cognition and brain volume."
The findings appear in a recent online edition of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
Source: Prabha Siddarth, Ph.D., biostatistician, department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, SoSemel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and Longevity Center, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles; Adam Woods, Ph.D., assistant professor and assistant director, Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory (CAM), and director, CAM Neurophysiology and Neuromodulation Research Core, McKnight Brain Institute, department of clinical and health psychology, College of Public Health and Health Professions, University of Florida, Gainesville; Dec. 12, 2017, Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, online
Disponible en: https://medlineplus.gov/spanish/news/fullstory_170688.html
Translated by Mayores Saludables