Exercise is often associated with better heart health but new research is showing it has an impact on brain health as well. Scientists have discovered people who are more physically active in midlife are more likely to have better brain health later in life.
Researchers wanted to know if there was a link between activity and brain health so they looked at a group of 1,604 volunteers in an ongoing study to find answers. Study participants reported their exercise activity at the start of the study and again 25 years later. Researchers categorized the amount of exercise as either none, low, middle or high.
"This research adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting exercise as an important way we can look after our brain health,” said Dr. Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK. "Just a third of people think it's possible to reduce their risk of developing dementia, compared to 77% who believe they can reduce their risk of heart disease. While there is no sure-fire risk way to prevent dementia, our brains don't operate in isolation from the rest of our bodies and a good rule of thumb for everyone is that what is good for your heart is also good for your brain.”
The volunteers had MRI brain scans done to measure brain health. They were checked for brain shrinkage and a type of brain damage known as cerebrovascular lesions. Scientists found an association between physical activity of 150 minutes per week or more in mid-life with better brain health later in life, including fewer cerebrovascular lesions.
Researchers observed those who exercised more also had less damage to the small blood vessels throughout the brain. That led them to conclude physical activity may improve brain health by increasing blood supply to the brain.
"As the UK's leading dementia research charity, Alzheimer's Research UK is now funding work to see how feasible it is for people in midlife to take up exercise as part of a healthier lifestyle, with a view to larger trials that assess the effect on brain health,” Imarisio said. "The best current evidence suggests that as well as staying physically and mentally active, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, drinking only within the recommended limits and keeping weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check are all good ways to support a healthy brain as we age."