Scientific evidence over the years has shown that older adults who are more active have lower rates of heart problems and diabetes. Now new research suggests that staying active as you age may protect the brain from damage.

Many elderly people have tiny areas of damage in their brains that can be seen on MRIs, known as white matter hyperintensities. Higher amounts of this damage can be linked to cognitive difficulties and problems with moving.

A new study has tested the hypothesis that physical activity may modify the relationship between white matter hypersensitivity and motor function in older adults. The study had 165 senior citizens who did not have dementia, with the mean age of 80. Thirty percent of the subjects were men.

Total activity each day was measured for 11 days, and upper and lower extremity motor performance was measured. MRI scans then were done to assess how much white matter hypersensitivity existed in their brains.

Research showed that people with the highest levels of physical activity did not have much effect on white matter hypersensitivities in the motor function. People who were less active had lower scores on their movement tests. People with the least amount of activity had higher amounts of brain damage.

The difference between the 50th and 90th percentiles worked out to be about 90 minutes more of walking per day.

The evidence strongly suggests that people who are more physically active may be able to maintain more of their cognitive and motor functions as they age.