david r md

Exercise and Optimal Brain Health in the Mature Adult

Yet another study has come out showing the vital importance of getting and staying active as we age, and its becoming increasingly clear that consistent physical activity and exercise could be a very crucial part of staving off mental decline from dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

The New York Times recently reported on a study performed by researchers from UCLA and other institutions, which tracked close to 1,000 people age 65 or older over a ten-year period, assessing them for cognitive status and the amount of activity these individuals were engaged in.  The researchers found that the most active men and women in their study cohort had substantially more gray matter in the areas of the brain related to memory and higher-level thinking.  It is widely accepted that more gray matter, which is composed mostly of neurons, equates to more optimal brain health.  Furthermore, those older adults who increased their activity over a 5-year period actually increased the amount of gray matter in those same parts of the brain.   The study also found that those active participants with the higher amounts of gray matter had one-half the risk five years out of developing memory decline or Alzheimer’s.

So much for the outdated thinking that says aging inevitably means mental decline!

The catch is that you have to make physical activity an absolute priority in your life as you age, and it doesn’t have to be running a marathon or completing a  triathlon either.  Though there can be surprising and substantial benefits to intense exercise in older adults, not everyone is able to be quite that active in their 60s, 70s, and 80s (and beyond!).  For the purposes of this study, the physical activity was mostly moderate:  walking, jogging, easy cycling, ballroom dancing, and other active recreational pursuits.

If you are an older adult who has not been physically active, and if you are not my patient, you must check with your physician as to whether exercise and/or other physical activity is right for you.  If you are currently my patient, I would be happy to assess your readiness for undertaking more physical activity, and help you plan out a program that would be most beneficial for you.

The moral of the story here is: get active and stay active, in order to live a long life with your mental faculties intact and the essential “you” undiminished and untouched by the passage of time.


Dr. Allen gives free lectures at the Library three to four times each year, on topics of interest from the cutting edge of integrative medicine.  If you would like to be added to our mailing list for these lectures and his other speaking engagements, please email da@davidallenmd.com.