NOV 28, 2017 7:40 AM PST

Aerobic Exercise Can Prevent Brain Shrinkage

Exercise is good for you. There's just no doubt about that. However, new research shows that it might have a particular benefit that isn't related to weight, muscle tone or cardiovascular health.

A study conducted by scientists at the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) in Australia at Western Sydney University and the Division of Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Manchester in England suggests that exercise, mainly aerobic exercise, can hold off dementia, brain shrinkage, and memory loss. The study results showed particular benefits to the hippocampus, which is the region of the brain that handles memory.

In the case of dementia and memory loss, the issue is one of size. The brain, and particularly the hippocampus, shrinks as we age. Experts estimate that the rate of shrinkage is about 5% every ten years after the age of 40. Animal studies have shown that exercise not only bulks up the body but can cause the hippocampus to get bigger as well. Regarding memory, bigger is better.

The collaboration between the NICM team and the researchers in Manchester was an analysis of 14 different clinical trials that involved exercise and brain scans. In total, there were 737 participants who had taken part in exercise programs and had undergone brain scans both before and after the exercise regimens. The study subjects were a mixed bag of healthy adults, Alzheimer's patients, individuals with mental illness and some with mild cognitive impairment. The age range went from 24 to 76 years old, with an average age of 66.

The studies that were included in the review featured a range of aerobic activity. Some study subjects used stationary bikes, others walked or ran on treadmills. The length of the studies varied from three months of an exercise program to 24 months and participants engaged in the aerobic activity anywhere from 2 to 5 times a week. While the size of the hippocampus did not increase, on the whole, the studies reviewed showed significant increases in the left region of the hippocampus in many of the study volunteers.

Joseph Firth, a post-doctoral research fellow at NICM, was the lead author of the work and stated that the review of existing research represents some of the most reliable evidence that exercise has a positive impact on brain health. He explained, "When you exercise you produce a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which may help to prevent age-related decline by reducing the deterioration of the brain. Our data showed that, rather than actually increasing the size of the hippocampus per se, the main 'brain benefits' are due to aerobic exercise slowing down the deterioration in brain size. In other words, exercise can be seen as a maintenance program for the brain."

Currently, no cure exists for dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases, but the impact of aerobic exercise has repeatedly been shown not only to keep humans mentally healthy as we age but to prevent dementia, Alzheimer's and memory loss by keeping the brain from losing volume. Check out the video below for more information.

Sources: Daily Mail, Journal NeuroImage, via Science Direct, NICM

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.
You May Also Like
DEC 04, 2019
Neuroscience
DEC 04, 2019
Antibiotic Usage May Cause Parkinson's, Study Finds
A study from Helsinki University Hospital, Finland suggests that excessive usage of certain antibiotics may increase one’s risk of developing Parkins...
DEC 22, 2019
Neuroscience
DEC 22, 2019
Midlife Obesity, not Diet, Increases Dementia Risk
A new study on over 1 milion women in the UK has found that women who are obese during their 50’s are at a higher risk than women with healthier phys...
DEC 29, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
DEC 29, 2019
How close are we to a simple blood test for Parkinson's Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) alters nerve cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Famously regarded as the “happiness”...
JAN 08, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
JAN 08, 2020
MicroRNA emerges as a biomarker for migraines
Intense, debilitating pain that can last for days. Nausea, numbness and sensitivity to light. For people who experience migraines, it’s frustrating t...
JAN 16, 2020
Neuroscience
JAN 16, 2020
Early-life Stress and Pollution Lead to Cognitive Impairment
Children exposed to high levels of stress at home from early on and high levels of air pollution while still in the womb are more likely to develop attenti...
FEB 06, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
FEB 06, 2020
Concussion detector could pick up concussions in athletes, right from the sidelines
Concussions are brain traumas caused by a blow to the head or a whiplash injury. The risk of concussions are greatly heightened in athletes playing high co...
Loading Comments...