Research demonstrates that exercise can limit mental decline as people age. The majority of studies investigating how exercise affects the brain focus on exercise’s benefits for older adults. A new study from the Northern California Institute of Research and Education in San Francisco finds that excise in young adulthood could be just as important and critical for protecting mental health. The researchers discovered that young adults who are generally inactive and watch a lot of television are the most at-risk for later cognitive decline.
Over 3,200 Americans were involved in the study. The researchers evaluated the participants, who began the study between ages 18 and 30, over the course of 25 years. They examined the participants’ physical activity levels and television-viewing habits. After 25 years, they conducted thinking and memory tests.
The researchers found that:
- 17 percent of the participants had a long-term pattern of inactivity.
- 11 percent of the participants had a long-term pattern of high levels of television viewing.
- 3 percent had a pattern of both long-term inactivity and high levels of television viewing.
The results of the cognition tests demonstrated that people with both low levels of physical activity and high levels of television viewing scored much worse than participants who were more active and watched less television. Furthermore, participants with low levels of activity and high levels of television viewing were almost twice as likely to have developed poor mental function in mid-life compared to the rest of the cohort.
The study does not demonstrate a causal relationship between low activity, high television consumption and reduced mental function, but it does suggest that they are linked. It may be that early adulthood is a critical period for establishing activity patterns for later life. Physical activity is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, and dementia, which could account for the study’s findings.
This research was presented at the annual meeting of the Alzheimer’s Association in Washington, D.C.
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