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updated 10/23/2012 5:21:24 PM ET 2012-10-23T21:21:24

Brains have a tendency to shrink as people get older, but regular exercise can help to prevent that from happening, a new study finds.

The study, published in the latest issue of Neurology, determined that exercising regularly in old age provides better protection against brain shrinkage than engaging in mental or social activities.

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"People in their seventies who participated in more physical exercise, including walking several times a week, had less brain shrinkage and other signs of aging in the brain than those who were less physically active," study author Alan J. Gow, with the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, was quoted as saying in a press release. "On the other hand, our study showed no real benefit to participating in mentally and socially stimulating activities on brain size, as seen on MRI scans, over the three-year time frame."

Gow and his team looked at medical records of 638 people from Scotland born in 1936. The participants were given MRI scans  at 73 years old. Participants gave details about their exercise habits, ranging from moving only in connection with necessary household chores to keeping fit with heavy exercise or participating in competitive sports several times per week. They also reported their participation in social and mentally stimulating activities.

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The research found that after three years, people who participated in more physical activity experienced less brain shrinkage than those who exercised minimally.

We all know at this point that exercise is good for us, so this just adds to the long list of benefits. Taking into account prior research, that list includes preventing disease, improving healing, improving quality of life, increasing balance and increasing life expectancy.

"Our results show that regularly exercising in old age is potentially important to protecting the brain as we age," Gow said, summing up the latest research.

So what are you waiting for? It's time to get off the computer and move!

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© 2012 Discovery Channel

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