Study: Physical Exercise Might Be Good for the Brain
There is little argument that regular, moderate exercise is good for the body. Exercise strengthens the heart, keeps the muscles loose, helps control weight and blood pressure, and so on. But a new study out of Boston University suggests that regular exercise might also be good for the brain. We’re not talking about mental exercise here; we are talking about physical exercise. Apparently, people who regularly exercise during middle age have bigger brains later in life. Those bigger brains may contribute to a lower risk of dementia-related diseases.
Researchers at Boston University studied almost 1,600 patients by looking at treadmill tests. The patients were an average of 40 years old at the beginning of the study and did not exhibit any evidence of heart disease or dementia. Each patient took one treadmill test at the start; follow-up treadmill tests and MRIs were conducted 18 years later.
The results of the follow-up tests were significant:
- Those who were more active in their 40s tended to enjoy larger brain volume in their older years.
Even when researchers removed nearly 600 participants in the follow-up study due to heart disease or use of beta blockers for blood pressure, the remaining participants still showed the same results. Those who remained active in their 40s exhibited larger brain volume.
- Researchers have been quick to point out that their research does not indicate that greater levels of inactivity lead directly to lower brain volume. But there does seem to be a link in the opposite direction. The researchers believe it may have something to do with blood and oxygen levels in the brain.
More Is Better for the Brain
We already know that regular exercise improves blood flow and distributes oxygen more evenly across the body. We also know that the brain responds very well when blood flow and oxygen are in ample supply. Researchers surmise that regular exercise during middle age may be very beneficial to the brain in this respect. If they are correct, the increased blood flow and oxygen levels resulting from exercise could be what is adding volume to the brain.
The next step is to study whether larger brain volume is linked to a lower risk of dementia-related diseases. Researchers are not yet ready to say this is the case, but they are ready to start studying the question in an attempt to find out. If it turns out that regular, moderate exercise can reduce the risk of dementia later in life, it would have a significant impact on the treatment of Alzheimer’s and other debilitating diseases that strike the elderly.
You Can’t Go Wrong with Exercise
As a naturopath, I am a big believer in moderate exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. Our bodies were built for exercise; they were not built to be sedentary for a majority of the day. Even getting up and walking a mile or two is better than not getting any exercise at all. In the end, you really can’t go
wrong with moderate exercise.
We will have to wait for future studies to see if researchers from Boston University can find the links they are hoping to find. But at this early stage, what their initial study suggests makes perfect sense. Perhaps exercise is more beneficial to our mental health than we really know. Perhaps the best thing we can do to maintain a sound mind in our older years is to make sure we maintain a sound body while we are still young.