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Regular physical exercise may protect more against brain shrinkage in old age than mental activities, according to a new study.

Research by Edinburgh University shows that even just walking could help protect people against problems with memory and thinking.

Researchers looked at medical records of 638 people from Scotland born in 1936. The participants were given MRI scans at 73 years old.

The university’s Dr Alan Gow said: “People in their 70s who participated in more physical exercise had less brain shrinkage and other signs of ageing in the brain than those who were less physically active.

“On the other hand, our study showed no real benefit to participating in mentally and socially stimulating activities over the three-year time frame.”