Active children may have better memory during adulthood
14th March 2013
gymnasticParents who attempt to persuade their children to switch off the games console and play outside may not find it effective explaining that this could help to keep their brains functioning better when they are elderly. Cognitive decline, dementia or memory loss are not phrases likely to register with children, but keeping them active at a young age and maintaining exercise throughout adulthood can have a major impact on brain function in later life, according to scientists at King’s College, London. All adults will experience some degree of mental degradation as they get older, but the scientists at London claim that regular exercise started early and continued through life could help to protect our brains, and not just our waistlines and heart. They say that going to the gym, jogging, playing sport, or even walking the dog can have benefits for years to come. In fact, their study results suggest that there is improved brain function at the age of 50 following exercise done on a less frequent basis. Over 9,000 individuals aged 11 were assessed for the 40-year study, which was comprised of information obtained from interviews with the participants at the ages of 11, 16, 33, 42, 46, and 50 in order to ascertain their level of exercise, if any. They also had to undergo memory, attention and learning tests to see if there was any correlation between exercise and cognitive decline. The study has been published in the journal Psychological Medicine and is one of the first extended investigations of the impact of exercise on the brain. Brain function was established after results were entered into a ‘cognitive index’. For the memory task, the subjects had to memorise ten unrelated words before immediate and delayed recall was tested. ‘Executive function’ was determined by them having to list as many animals as they could within one minute. Researchers discovered that the people exercised every week both during child and adulthood actually scored higher on tests of attention, learning memory and reasoning at the age of 50 compared to those who had merely exercised just two or three times each month, or less. Current guidelines recommend adults aged 19-64 to engage in 150 minutes’ of exercise each week at the very least and the King’s College study suggests that even a little exercise may still help to increase brain function. Dr. Alex Dregan, lecturer in translational epidemiology and public health, who led the project, says: “As exercise represents a key component of lifestyle changes to prevent cognitive decline, heart disease, diabetes and cancer...interventions to promote lifelong exercise have the potential to reduce the personal and social burden associated with these conditions in later years. It’s widely acknowledged that a healthy body equals a healthy mind. However, not everyone is willing or able to take part in the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity a week. For these people any level of physical activity may benefit their mental wellbeing in the long-term. Setting lower exercise targets at the beginning and gradually increasing their frequency and intensity could be a more 
effective method for improving levels of exercise in the wider population.” Adding to Dr. Dregan’s conclusion was Dr. Ian Campbell, a GP and founder of the National Obesity Forum. He commented: “Although ideally a child gets to love exercise and feel the benefits from very young, taking up regular exercise at any age is beneficial to the brain. Yes, 30 minutes five times a week is the ideal, but any regular activity will improve mental function, and reduce the risk of further mental decline. There’s already a lot of evidence that exercise reduces anxiety and depression levels, as well as improving perceptions of the quality of life. People who feel more positive suffer fewer illnesses, less 
stiffness in their joints and a whole host of other benefits. And once you start to feel this mood enhancement the more you feel like doing it.”