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Physical activity associated with fewer aging brain-related movement problems

Age-related brain lesions known as white matter hyperintensities (WMH) have been linked to movement problems and disabilities in late life. A recent study suggests that physically active older people may have fewer movement problems caused by WMH. The study, supported in part by NIA, was published online March 11, 2015, in Neurology.

Brain imaging shows that WMH are common in older adults, and increased WMH levels have been linked with difficulty walking and other movement problems, according to researchers led by Dr. Debra A. Fleischman of the Rush University Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Chicago.

Previous studies suggest that physical activity may enhance brain health by increasing blood flow and other vascular functions in the brain, thus reducing WMH burden. The new study found that physically active older adults with high levels of WMH had fewer motor problems than sedentary people with a high WMH burden.

The research team measured total daily activity for 11 days in 167 older adults (average age 80) in the Rush Memory and Aging Project. All of the participants wore movement monitors on their wrists, took movement and strength tests, and underwent brain magnetic resonance imaging to determine the extent of WMH.

These findings suggest that higher levels of physical activity in older adults may protect against loss of motor function despite the burden of WMH. However, further studies are needed to investigate other brain mechanisms and motor pathways that may influence movement.

Reference: Fleischman DA, et al. Physical activity, motor function, and white matter hyperintensity burden in healthy older adults. Neurology. 2015;8:1-7.