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  • Writer's pictureCara

How Exercise May Help Protect Your Brain From Cognitive Decline and Dementia

I recently watched a webinar on this. This is study is very interesting and is why our Elevate class is structured the way it is an why I think this is so important.

Older adults with poor fitness levels have more deterioration of white matter in their brains, according to a new study, compared with their fitter peers. White matter deterioration was also linked with a decline in decision-making brain function among adults with early signs of memory loss, suggesting that regular exercise may slow cognitive decline and perhaps even dementia, say the study authors.

The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, is not the first to suggest that exercise may help keep the brain healthy in old age. But while previous research has asked adults to self-report their fitness levels, the new paper used an objective test for cardiorespiratory fitness—measuring people’s VO2 max, a measure of how much oxygen their lungs can utilize during intense exercise...

The researchers also found that, in adults with MCI, white matter integrity was associated with executive function. In other words, the healthier the white-matter fibers, the better people’s scores were on tests for critical thinking and planning skills.

The findings strengthen the long-held hypothesis that maintaining or improving fitness levels in old age may protect the brain, the study authors write in their paper—even in people at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease. “That’s exciting, because the field right now is challenging,” Zhang says. “Even though we suspect it, there hasn’t really been any conclusive evidence that exercise can have an impact on the development of dementia.”

Last year, the National Academies of Sciences reported that, despite advances in understanding dementia, the evidence on treatment and prevention interventions “remains relatively limited and has significant shortcomings.” The idea that increased physical activity may delay or slow age-related cognitive decline is supported by “encouraging but inconclusive evidence,” the report concluded.

Many experts believe that maintaining physical fitness can help keep blood flowing normally to brain tissue, which can reduce the risk of damage or deterioration. Animal and human studies have also shown that aerobic exercise stimulates the release of growth hormones that may also improve brain function. In 2013, Zhang’s team found that messages are more efficiently relayed between brain cells in older adults who exercise, compared to those who are sedentary...

“It makes sense that’s what’s good for the heart is good for the brain,” says Zhang. “I don’t think we need sophisticated science to make that point, but we do need more studies to make evidence-based recommendations about what strategies work best. And in a couple of years, I’m positive, we should have that sort of evidence.”

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