To help stave off the cognitive decline of aging, you might want to drop the crossword puzzle and head out for a brisk walk or a bike ride.
In a study published in the journal Neurology of almost 700 people born in 1936, researchers found physically active people showed fewer signs of brain shrinkage and other deterioration than those who got less exercise.
At the same time, social and intellectual activities such as visiting family and friends, reading, playing intellectually stimulating games or learning a new language did nearly nothing to ward off the symptoms of an aging brain, the study said.
"People who exercise more have better brain health," said Alan Gow, one of the study's researchers and a senior research fellow at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
The researchers noted, however, that "the direction of causation is unclear," meaning they couldn't tell if a healthier brain was a result of physical activity, or if people showing signs of cognitive decline weren't able to exercise. Other studies have also suggested exercise can improve brain health. Exercise increases circulation in the body and helps bring more oxygen, glucose and other needed substances to the brain.