Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in middle age and beyond might help keep your brain healthy, a new study suggests.

“Our study suggests that getting at least an hour and 15 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity a week or more during midlife may be important throughout your lifetime for promoting brain health and preserving the actual structure of your brain,” said study author Priya Palta, an epidemiologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City.

“In particular, engaging in more than 2.5 hours of physical activity per week in middle age was associated with fewer signs of brain disease,” she said.

For the study, published online Jan. 6 in the journal Neurology, Palta’s team collected data on more than 1,600 people (average age: 53) who had five physical exams over 25 years and rated their weekly activity levels.

Participants also had brain scans at the end of the study to measure their gray and white brain matter and areas of injury or disease in the brain.

While the researchers only found a correlation, those participants who didn’t do moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity in midlife had 47% greater odds, on average, of developing small areas of brain damage compared to people who engaged in high levels of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity.

Higher activity levels were also associated with more intact white matter. White matter is tissue composed of nerve fibers that link different areas of the brain.

“Our research suggests that physical activity may impact cognition in part through its effects on small vessels in the brain,” Palta said in a journal news release. “This study adds to the body of evidence showing that exercise with moderate-to-vigorous intensity is important for maintaining thinking skills throughout your lifetime.”

More information

For more on exercise and health, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: American Academy of Neurology, news release, Jan. 6, 2021