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Exercise keeps women's minds in shape

May 9, 2001

Exercise keeps women's minds in shape

By Karla Gale

PHILADELPHIA, May 09 (Reuters Health) - If it has been hard to get motivated for your morning walk, new research findings may inspire you to lace up your sport shoes. A study involving nearly 6,000 women shows that exercise keeps your mind sharp as you age.

Dr. Kristine Yaffe, of the University of California at San Francisco, and colleagues described their findings here Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

"Active mice have been shown to develop more neural connections and healthier neurons in the hippocampus region of the brain compared to couch-potato mice," she said, which made the researchers wonder if the same would be true in humans.

To test that theory, the investigators had women complete a modified version of the Mini-Mental State Exam, a common measure of brain function, at the beginning of the study and again 6 to 8 years later.

To quantify the amount of exercise each woman normally engaged in, the researchers questioned them on their routine activities around the house, how many flights of stairs they climbed in a week and the number of blocks they normally walked.

"In the higher-energy groups, we saw much less cognitive decline," which amounted to a protective effect of as much as 40%, according to Yaffe, chief of geriatric psychiatry at the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center.

"It wasn't a matter of all or nothing," she added. "A little bit of exercise was good" in terms of keeping the women mentally healthy, while higher activity levels afforded even more protection.

To make sure the study results were not due to healthier women exhibiting better test results, the investigators took into account such factors as age, presence of health problems and whether or not the women smoked.

"Despite their differences, the relationship between physical activity and cognitive decline was found for all subgroups," Yaffe said. "So it wasn't a matter of just one subgroup doing all the activity."

To keep neurons in tip-top shape, Yaffe recommends playing tennis a couple times a week, walking a mile each day or even playing golf once a week.

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