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You Call Them Chores, They Call Them Memory Boosters

Mother-in Law working in the garden, Sept 2009

Exercise helps the brain, but that doesn't mean you have to work up a sweat to get those mental benefits.

Some important new studies show that just getting up off your tush every day and doing normal daily activities like  gardening, walking, or volunteering can stave off  memory loss,  the  New York Times' Gretchen Reynolds writes in a recent column.

In a study published last week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a team of Canadian and American researchers found that modest activity -- cooking, cleaning, taking a walk around the block each day -- had a remarkable effect at preventing memory loss in a group of about 3,000 men and women aged 70 to 79.

The subjects, from Pennsylvania and Tennessee, were followed for two to five years. Most of them did not exercise, in the strict sense, and almost none worked out vigorously.

Even so, said lead author Laura Middleton of the Heart and Stroke Foundation Centre for Stroke Recovery in Toronto, modest activity kept the most active of the participants from showing little mental decline over the years as compared to those who were sedentary. About 90 percent of those who had the most daily activities could think and remember just fine, year after year.

"Our results indicate that vigorous exercise isn't necessary" to protect your mind, Middleton told the Times.

That was also the conclusion of a new Harvard study of nearly 3,000 women aged 65 and older who had vascular disease or were at high-risk for coronary disease.  The researchers, who followed the women for five years, found "significantly slower rates of decline" in women who walked at least 30 minutes a day.

"If an inactive 70-year-old is heading toward dementia at 50 miles per hour, by the time she's 75 or 76, she's speeding there at 75 miles per hour," Jae H. Kang, Harvard assistant professor of medicine, told the newspaper.

Walking and other light activity slows that decline immensely. Just by walking, the women in the study gained about five years of better brainpower.

Don't like walking? How about lifting some light weights twice a week? A new study from the University of British Columbia found that it not only improved thinking in a group of older women, it even improved blood flow to the brain.

After 12 months of lifting light weights twice a week, the women performed significantly better on mental ability tests than a control group. In addition, MRI scans showed that portions of the brain that control thinking were more active in the weight-lifting group than in the control group.

And the other good thing about lifting weights? You can do it indoors. A sweltering summer day or icy winter weather won't keep you from improving your brain.


Photo credit: Andrea_44 via

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