Engaging in physical activity can improve young girls’ self-esteem, physical health and social skills. A recent study suggests that regular physical activity in youth may also safeguard against dementia in later years.

Published in the July issue of Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (2010; 58 [7], 1322–26), the large study included 9,300 women over age 65 living in the United States. Each participant answered questions about physical activity during various stages of their lives (teenage; age 30; age 50; late-life). For each stage, women who reported being physically active had lower rates of cognitive degeneration than those who were inactive. “Teenage physical activity was most strongly associated with lower odds of late-life cognitive impairment,” stated the study authors.

But all is not lost if exercise was not adopted in early years. “Women who were physically inactive as teenagers and became active in later life had lower risk than those who remained inactive,” the authors concluded.