NOV 17, 2015 4:46 AM PST

A Workout for the Brain

While it’s well known that exercise has many health benefits for the cardiovascular system, muscles and bone strength, it’s becoming clear that for older adults especially, physical exercise can keep the brain healthy as well. A study done in Illinois this fall and one about to begin in Colorado concerning the effects of exercise on mental fitness suggest that physical activity has benefits above the neck as well as below.
 Exercise is good for the brain too
The Illinois study, conducted at the University of Illinois at Champaign, was published in the Journal PLOS ONE and showed that older adults who are more physically fit have more variable brain activity than those who are more sedentary.  Brain variability was determined by measuring the spontaneous moment-to-moment variability in the blood oxygenation level-dependent signal (SDBOLD) which researchers associate with better cognition. Functional MRI studies were performed on the participants so the team could track how the levels of oxygen changed in the brain during activity and at rest.
 
In a press release lead author of the study and post-doc researcher Agnieszka Burzynska said,  “We looked at 100 adults between the ages of 60 and 80, and we used accelerometers to objectively measure their physical activity over a week. “We found that spontaneous brain activity showed more moment-to-moment fluctuations in the more-active adults. In a previous study, we showed that in some of the same regions of the brain, those people who have higher brain variability also performed better on complex cognitive tasks, especially on intelligence tasks and memory.” 
 
The researchers also found that the more active study participants has better white matter structure than those who were less active. Arthur Kramer, director of the Beckman Center for Advanced Science and Technology and co-author told the Huffington Post, “Our study, when viewed in the context of previous studies that have examined behavioral variability in cognitive tasks, suggests that more-fit older adults are more flexible, both cognitively and in terms of brain function.” 
 
In Colorado a similar study is just beginning on exercise and its effects on quality of life issues as well as cognitive function. The University of Colorado at Boulder was awarded a $1.7 million grant from the National Institutes for Health for a five year study called “Project FORCE: Enhancing Function in Later Life” 

Professor Angela Bryan of the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at CU-Boulder will collect data from sedentary older adults over the age of 60 as well as from younger adults who are also sedentary. Older adults who sign up for the study will be given a series of assessments, both physical and psychological as well as undergo functional MRIs before and after the completing a 16 week supervised aerobic exercise program
 
Casey Gardiner, a doctoral student at the university said in a press release,  “This allows us to determine how exercise can change the brain, whether different exercise regimens affect the brain differently, and whether brain function may explain the positive effects of exercise in numerous aspects of function of older adults.” Check out the video below for more information about the study in Colorado.
 
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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