You know that exercise is good for you, but you are not that crazy about going to the gym, walking a couple of miles, or swimming a few laps in the pool every day. Take heart. A new research study has good news for you.
The study finds that even walking for 15 minutes a day or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can keep your brain healthy. Not just any part of your brain either. The study finds that moderate exercise boosts in particular the parts of your brain involving your memory by feeding more oxygen to those areas.Read More »
Can counteract brain disease
Such small changes in your behavior as walking for 15 minutes a day or taking the stairs can have a positive impact on your brain, he adds. It also can counteract loss of brain matter and the development of brain diseases that can come with age.
Older adults, in particular, can benefit from modest increases in the amount of low-intensity physical activity that they undertake, Aziz says.
Exercise benefit was ‘almost sudden’
An interesting aspect of the study was that these regions of the brain do not grow bigger with physical activity in a consistent or linear way, explains Fabienne Fox, a neuroscientist at DZNE and lead author of the study. In other words, more physical activity does not result in the same amount of increase in brain volume.
The research team learned that the greatest improvement took place between those who were inactive and those who were only moderately active physically. The increase between the two groups was “almost sudden,” she notes.
This effect was particularly noticeable in those people who were over 70.
It is true that younger and athletic people who took part in moderate to intense physical activity also had brain volumes that were relatively higher, Aziz says. The brain volumes were only slightly larger in those people, however. The more active a person the greater is the impact on the brain, although the beneficial effects tend to level off with more activity, he adds.
Study was more precise
Most people realize that exercise keeps your mind and body healthy, but few earlier scientific discoveries have shown exactly where and how physical activity can be good for our brains, Fox notes.
Previous research looked at the brain as a whole, she explains. The goal of this study was to undertake a more detailed examination of the brain to find out which regions are affected by physical activity.
The study showed that the more intense and greater the physical activity the larger were the brain regions that were affected, whether that be in terms of cortical thickness or of volume.
Main impact was on memory
The main impact, however, was in boosting the volume in the hippocampus, considered to be the control center for memory. Bigger brain volumes provide improved protection against degeneration of the brain than smaller volumes do, Fox says.
Compared with other regions of the brain the hippocampus needs increased blood flow. Such a flow is ensured during physical activity, which might explain why these areas of the brain benefit more from exercise, Aziz explains.
Overlap with brain diseases
The study also showed that a large overlap exists between those genes that are impacted by physical activity and those that are affected by neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s disease, the researchers say. That finding might offer an explanation why physical activity protects the brain, they conclude.
The study enabled the researchers to show which regions of the brain benefit from physical activity in a greater detail than before, Aziz adds. He hopes the results will provide significant leads for further research in the field.
The research was based on information in the Bonn “Rhineland Study.” The research team analyzed the physical activity of 2,550 people aged 30 to 94 who wore accelerometers on their upper thighs for seven days. They compared these results with brain images obtained by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which provided information on the thickness of the cortex and brain volume.
The study is published in the journal Neurology.
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