What’s the best way to stay mentallysharp well into old age? According to a recent study by experts at EdinburghUniversity, it’s not brain games. Turnsout exercise may be the most effective way to keep elderly minds as big andfunctional as possible. More so than brain teasers and social interaction,exercise was associated with the biggest boost in brainpower.

What can you do to be around for your grandkids?

The study tested 638 Scottish 70-year-oldsby having them fill out questionnaires about their exercise habits, engagementwith intellectual activities (like crossword puzzles) and socialization. Threeyears later, when the participants were 73, the scientists took MRIs of theindividuals to study the size of their brains and the volume of their whitematter (the web of nerves that connects various brain regions). This data wascompared to the results of the participants’ questionnaires.

The results of the study found that those who engaged in thegreatest amount of exercise experienced the least amount of brain shrinkage andwere the least likely to exhibit signs of dementia. Those that engaged in other seemingly brain-stimulatingactivities, such as socializing or reading a book, appeared unaffected.

Prior research found that exercisecan prevent or slow down the onset of dementia, but this research may point tothe reason why.

However, scientists in this studyare speculating what may cause the association between exercise and less brain shrinkage.Is it that exercise increases oxygen to the brain, preventing it fromshrinking? Or are those with smaller brains less likely to exercise?

You Don’t Need to be a ProfessionalAthlete

But what if your 85-year-old mothernever worked out a day in her life? The good news is you don’t hvae to runmarathons to get a brain boost — even just a walk around the block once a daycan have a noticeable impact. Is your family member a gardener? Bird-watcher?Whatever activity he or she prefers, just keep ’em moving. Even playing withkids is helpful exercise, as long as they are moving.

Not all seniors are going to beathletes, but the more you can push your family to stay active, the longer theywill be mentally with you.

By: Jen Wolfe