Aerobic Exercise Benefits Brain Function As Well As Body
November 12, 2013

Aerobic Exercise Benefits Brain As Well As Body

Lee Rannals for – Your Universe Online

According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, physical exercise programs could help aging adults improve their memory.

Researchers from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas used a new brain imaging technique to determine aerobic exercise helps improve memory and brain function. The finding is significant for those adults 50 and older who want to stay mentally sharp.

"Science has shown that aging decreases mental efficiency and memory decline is the number one cognitive complaint of older adults," Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth, said in a press release. "This research shows the tremendous benefit of aerobic exercise on a person's memory and demonstrates that aerobic exercise can reduce both the biological and cognitive consequences of aging."

The study involved adults between the ages 57 and 75 who were randomized into a physical training group or put on a wait-list control group. The physical training group participated in supervised aerobic exercise on a stationary bike or treadmill for an hour, three times a week for 12 weeks. During the study, participants’ cognition, resting cerebral blood flow, and cardiovascular fitness were assessed at three different points.

"By measuring brain blood flow non-invasively using arterial spin labeling (ASL) MRI, we can now begin to detect brain changes much earlier than before," Sina Aslan, PhD, founder and president of Advance MRI and collaborator on the study, said in a press release. "One key region where we saw increase in brain blood flow was the anterior cingulate, indicating higher neuronal activity and metabolic rate. The anterior cingulate has been linked to superior cognition in late life."

The team found exercisers who improved their memory performance also showed greater increase in brain blood flow to the hippocampus region, which is an area of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

Chapman said brain changes were identified earlier than memory improvements, which implies brain blood flow is a promising and sensitive metric of brain health gains across treatment regimens.

"Physical exercise may be one of the most beneficial and cost-effective therapies widely available to everyone to elevate memory performance," says Chapman. "These findings should motivate adults of all ages to start exercising aerobically."

She said that although physical exercise is associated with a selective or regional brain blood flow, the activity did not produce a change in global brain blood flow.

"In another recent study, we have shown that complex mental training increases whole brain blood flow as well as regional brain blood flow across key brain networks," Chapman said in a press release. "The combination of physical and mental exercise may be the best health measures to improve overall cognitive brain health. We have just begun to test the upper boundaries of how we can enhance our brain's performance into late life. To think we can alter and improve the basic structure of the mature brain through aerobic exercise and complex thinking should inspire us to challenge our thinking and get moving at any age."