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Aerobic Exercise Can Help Preserve Brain Area Key to Memory

Aerobic Exercise Can Help Preserve Brain Area Key to Memory

New research finds that aerobic exercise, including stationary cycling, walking, and treadmill running can offset shrinkage of a critical brain region thereby improving memory function and maintaining brain health as we age.

In a first of a kind study, researchers from Australia’s National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) and the Division of Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Manchester in the U.K. found evidence in humans that exercise helps to maintain the hippocampus, a structure critical for memory and other brain functions.

Studies in mice and rats have consistently shown that physical exercise increases the size of the hippocampus but until now evidence in humans has been inconsistent.

Normally, brain health decreases with age, with the average brain shrinking by approximately five percent per decade after the age of 40.

For the study, the researchers systematically reviewed 14 clinical trials which examined the brain scans of 737 people before and after aerobic exercise programs or in control conditions.

The participants included a mix of healthy adults, people with mild cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s, and people with a clinical diagnosis of mental illness including depression and schizophrenia. Ages ranged from 24 to 76 years with an average age of 66.

The researchers examined effects of aerobic exercise, including stationary cycling, walking, and treadmill running. The length of the interventions ranged from three to 24 months with a range of two to five sessions per week.

Overall, the results showed that, while exercise had no effect on total hippocampal volume, it did significantly increase the size of the left region of the hippocampus in humans.

Lead author Dr. Joseph Firth, an NICM postdoctoral research fellow, said the study provides some of the most definitive evidence to date on the benefits of exercise for brain health.

“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,” Firth said.

“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.”

Firth says that along with improving regular healthy aging, the results have implications for the prevention of aging-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia but further research is needed to establish this.

Interestingly, physical exercise is one of the very few “proven” methods for maintaining brain size and functioning into older age.

The study appears in the journal NeuroImage,

Source: NICM, Western Sydney University

Aerobic Exercise Can Help Preserve Brain Area Key to Memory

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2017). Aerobic Exercise Can Help Preserve Brain Area Key to Memory. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 16, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2017/11/14/aerobic-exercise-can-help-preserve-brain-area-key-to-memory/128751.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Nov 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Nov 2017
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.