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THE QUESTION Exercising the mind and body has long been considered a good tactic for combating declines in the aging brain. Does this include a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease?

THIS STUDY analyzed data on 186 adults (average age, 74) who were considered generally healthy, with no neurologic or medical illnesses. Assessments included a range of standardized neuropsychological tests, along with imaging scans of the brain and pedometer readings. People who regularly did mentally stimulating activities — such as puzzles and other games, reading and writing — scored higher on cognitive tests and had higher IQs than those who did not.

However, imaging scans found no relationship between mental or physical activity, past or present, and known markers of Alzheimer’s disease, including the presence of amyloid plaques and a shrinking hippocampus, the part of the brain that plays a key role in memory.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Adults. With age, most people experience declines in memory: not remembering where they left their keys, for instance. Those who forget more things more often might have mild cognitive impairment. Sometimes this forgetfulness progresses to dementia, which occurs when memory issues affect day-to-day life: not remembering such things as where you live or how to use the phone. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, severely affecting people’s memory as well as their ability to live independently and function normally. More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease today, two-thirds of them women.

CAVEATS Data on physical and cognitive activity earlier in their lives came from the participants’ responses on questionnaires

FIND THIS STUDY June 10 online issue of Neurology (www.neurology.org; click on “Ahead of Print”).

LEARN MORE ABOUT Alzheimer’s disease at nia.nih.gov/alzheimers and www.alz.org.

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.