Get your exercise, keep your mind healthy too

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Regular physical activity may cut the risk of a type of mental decline known as vascular dementia in older people, according to a new study.

Adding to the increasing evidence that regular physical activity promotes brain health, researchers from the University of Lisbon found that non-disabled people who regularly engaged in physical activity reduced their risk of vascular-related dementia by 40 percent and the more general problem of cognitive impairment (which includes dementia and milder types of memory problems) by 60 percent.

The prospective multinational European study involved more than 600 men and women in their 60s and 70s. Almost two-thirds of the participants took exercise classes, walked, or biked for 30 minutes a day three times a week. Once a year during the three years of the study, participants were asked about depression, quality of life and their ability to do common activities. At the study s conclusion, the researchers found that 90 patients had developed dementia, including 54 with vascular dementia and 34 with Alzheimer's disease. Another 147 displayed problems with mental ability, but not dementia, the researchers reported online in the journal Stroke.

We strongly suggest physical activity of moderate intensity at least 30 minutes three times a week to prevent cognitive [thinking] impairment, Dr. Ana Verdelho, head researcher of the study, said in a journal news release. This is particularly important for people with vascular risk factors such as [high blood pressure], stroke, or diabetes.

Exercise of whatever intensity is important to maintain health, especially as one gets older, says ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross. But I wonder if the study took into account the healthy-people confounder: that is, healthy people, including mental health, are more likely to exercise. In order for this study to be considered significant this factor must be controlled for.