Exercise Makes Bigger Brains

The snow has finally stopped falling and spring has officially arrived!

It was great to see people out hiking, biking, gardening, running and generally being active outdoors last weekend. Spirits are high and we are getting out of our caves.

This is good news considering an article published in Neurology earlier this winter that highlighted the impact of exercise on the brain.

The researchers took a group of adults with an average age of 40 without dementia or heart disease. All of these participants did a baseline treadmill test. Twenty years later these participants did a treadmill test again and had an MRI of their brains. Here is what the research reported:

  • Those who had poorer performance on the treadmill (i.e. didn’t maintain their fitness) had smaller brains then those who did maintain their fitness.
  • Those patients with poor fitness levels WITHOUT cardiovascular disease (CVD) and medications (think blood pressure and cholesterol) had brain size loss equivalent to one year of accelerated aging.
  • Those with poor fitness levels who had developed CVD and were using medications  had two years of accelerated brain aging.

Now, age-related brain changes are normal; as we age, our brains naturally start to shrink. It’s a fact that can be alarming for those of us worried about the memory loss that seems so pervasive in our 40’s and 50’s. But this study (and others) point to a fairly simple solution: stay active.

What does it require to maintain your health as you age? Not running marathons. Not being an ironman triathalete. Not hiking from here to Timbuktu. A great start is getting the widely touted 10,000 steps a day. Everyday…forever.  It’s a number that, for many people, can be attained by adding about thirty minutes of walking to their day.

Everyone has 30 minutes. And isn’t your brain size worth it?

Besides…there might be no better way to spend 30 minutes.


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