If you want to keep your brain fit, forget the crossword puzzles… head for the gym or your closest jogging path instead. Amidst all the interest in improving brain fitness, a new study reported in The Archives of Internal Medicine shows that being in poor physical condition may increase the risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In Aging: Hit the Health Club: Offset Dementia’s Onset, the New York Times reports that being physically fit may actually help delay the onset of these illnesses. Researchers measured the physical condition of more than two thousand subjects who showed no symptoms of dementia, and then followed up about eight years later. They found that the less fit one was at the first measurement point, the more likely one was to by symptomatic at the time of the followup.

Dr. Eric Larson of the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle, a co-author of the study, notes the classic chicken-egg dilemma when correlating other factors with mental decline in a long-term study:

“The two processes are intimately connected,” Dr. Larson said. “People more likely to develop dementia show early signs of physical function decline, and people, especially in old age, will develop decline in physical function as a result of dementia that may be too mild to be detected.”

Still, Larson is bullish on the idea that physical fitness can maintain brain fitness:

“Maintaining physical fitness is likely to stave off cognitive decline, and maintaining cognitive fitness and activities can also help forestall physical decline,” he said. “They are all intimately linked in the aging process, and are influenced by activities in both spheres because they are not really separate spheres.”

No doubt we’ll soon see baby boomers doing word puzzles on treadmills…

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