Recent research finds a link between high levels of everyday physical activities and higher gray matter density in older individuals. In simpler words, this new study “Accelerometer Physical Activity is Associated with Greater Gray Matter Volumes in Older Adults without Dementia or Mild Cognitive Impairment” says that taking

part in these everyday activities—such as cleaning the house, walking the dog, or mowing the lawn—is associated with better brain health, as gray matter in the brain includes regions in control of muscle movement, thinking, feeling, memory, speech, and much more.

“More gray matter is associated with better cognitive function, while decreases in gray matter are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias,” explains Shannon Halloway, PhD, lead author of the study and Kellogg/Golden Lamp Society Postdoctoral Fellow in Rush University College of Nursing. “A healthy lifestyle, such as participating in lifestyle physical activity, is beneficial for brain health and may help lessen gray matter atrophy decreases,”

Halloway’s team reached these findings after measuring 262 older adults’ physical activity. These participants are enrolled in Rush’s Memory and Aging Project and have been recruited from retirement homes in Chicago to help with research efforts; they participate in clinical evaluations, undergo MRI scans, and even volunteer to donate their brains to science after death. For this particular study, the subjects wore accelerometers for 7-10 days, which measured the frequency, duration, and intensity of each individual’s physical activity.

The date from the accelerometers were then compared with gray matter volumes seen in the participants’ MRIs, all of which were obtained during one given year. Upon careful analysis, Halloway’s team discovered the association between an individual’s physical activity levels and gray matter volumes—and the link remained even after the researchers controlled for common causes of low gray brain matter levels such as age, gender, education, BMI, and depressive symptoms.

While past studies have analyzed the health of older people, this particular approach differed greatly in design. Rather than relying on self-reports of activity levels—which many overestimate and others underestimate—the researchers got a precise look at the activity levels thanks to the use of accelerometers. In addition, the subjects in this study had a mean age of 81 years and gave Halloway’s team insight on individuals older than 80, whereas the mean age for studies of the like is typically 70 years.

“Our daily lifestyle physical activities are supportive of brain health, and adults of all ages should continue to try and increase lifestyle physical activity to gain these benefits,” Halloway explained. She added that the team’s goal, moving forward, is to create and implement interventions for increasing physical activity levels among older adults—particularly in those with an increased risk for cognitive decline.

Rush University Medical Center (2018, February 14). Everyday Activities Associated with More Gray Matter in Brains of Older Adults. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved February 14, 2018 from

Halloway, S., Arfanakis, K., Wilbur, J., Schoeny, M. E., & Pressler, S. J. (2018, February 8). Accelerometer Physical Activity is Associated with Greater Gray Matter Volumes in Older Adults without Dementia or Mild Cognitive Impairment. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences Retrieved on February 20, 2018 from

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