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How exercise is linked to brain health

A new study shows that even moderate levels of physical activity can positively impact brain health

Being physically active is linked to increased size of brain areas important for memory and learning, new study finds. (Pixabay)

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 18.12.2023  |  03:00 PM IST

Many studies have shown that exercise can lift our mood, improve sleep and reduce feelings of anxiety. Now, a new study shows that it can positively impact brain health.

The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, shows that being physically active is linked to increased size of brain areas important for memory and learning, a press statement published in iOS Press reveals.


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For the study, the researchers analysed MRI brain scans of 10,125 people and found that those who regularly engaged in physical activities such as walking, running or sports had larger brain volumes in key areas. This includes the gray matter, which is responsible for processing information, and the white matter, which links different brain regions, as well as the hippocampus, important for memory, the statement explains.

These findings support previous studies that showed how being physically active is good for the brain. Regular exercise has been linked with lowering dementia risk as well as maintaining brain size. The researchers found that even moderate levels of physical activity, such as taking fewer than 4,000 steps a day, can positively impact brain health. Although the often-suggested target is 10,000 steps, a more achievable goal can inspire more people to engage in exercise such as walking.

“Our research links regular physical activity to larger brain volumes, suggesting neuroprotective benefits. This large sample study furthers our understanding of lifestyle factors in brain health and dementia prevention," study author Somayeh Meysami said in the statement.

In 2020, a Lancet study found several modifiable risk factors increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease, including physical activity. The new study expands on this previous work by linking caloric burn from leisure activities to improvement in the brain structure.

It highlights the influence of exercise on brain health imaging and presents it as a drug-free modifiable factor in substantially reducing Alzheimer's disease, the statement added.

Earlier this year, a study published in the journal Neuron in September demonstrated that exercise helps produce a hormone that could prevent Alzheimer’s disease. These findings show that a simple way to keep the brain healthy is to exercise.


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