Stay Active, Boost Brain Health: Exercise Linked to Larger Brain

Summary: A new study reveals a strong link between regular physical activity and enhanced brain health.

Analyzing MRI scans from 10,125 individuals, researchers found that exercise, even moderate like walking, is associated with increased brain volumes in crucial areas like gray matter, white matter, and the hippocampus. The study underscores exercise’s role in reducing dementia risk and maintaining brain size.

This research offers a practical approach to dementia prevention and brain health maintenance.

Key Facts:

  1. Regular exercise is linked to increased brain volumes in areas critical for memory and information processing.
  2. Even moderate physical activity, such as less than 4,000 steps a day, positively impacts brain health.
  3. The study contributes to the understanding of lifestyle factors in brain health and supports drug-free approaches to reducing Alzheimer’s disease risk.

Source: IOS Press

A fascinating link between regular exercise and better brain health has been revealed, according to an international study that included a team of clinical researchers from Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Brain Health Center, located at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. 

The research, detailed in the paper “Exercise-Related Physical Activity Relates to Brain Volumes in 10,125 Individuals,” was published this week in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and shows being physically active is related to increased size of brain areas important for memory and learning.

This shows a woman exercising.
This large sample study furthers our understanding of lifestyle factors in brain health and dementia prevention. Credit: Neuroscience News

The study looked at MRI brain scans from 10,125 people done at Prenuvo imaging centers, a key collaborator in the research. It found 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 helps with processing information, and the white matter, which connects different brain regions, as well as the hippocampus, important for memory.

Cyrus A. Raji, M.D., the lead researcher, explains the findings in simple terms: “Our research supports earlier studies that show being physically active is good for your brain. Exercise not only lowers the risk of dementia but also helps in maintaining brain size, which is crucial as we age.”

David Merrill, M.D., study co-author and director of the PBHC noted, “We found that even moderate levels of physical activity, such as taking fewer than 4,000 steps a day, can have a positive effect on brain health. This is much less than the often-suggested 10,000 steps, making it a more achievable goal for many people.”

Study co-author Somayeh Meysami, M.D.assistant professor of neurosciences at Saint John’s Cancer Institute and the Pacific Brain Health Center noted, “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.

A Lancet Study in 2020 found about a dozen modifiable risk factors increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease, including physical activity. This work builds upon previous work by this group, linking caloric burn from leisure activities to improved brain structure.

“This study demonstrates the influence of exercise on brain health imaging and when added to other studies on the role of diet, stress reduction and social connection offer the proven benefits of drug-free modifiable factors in substantially reducing Alzheimer’s disease,” said George Perry, Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

 “With comprehensive imaging scans, our study underscores the interconnected synergy between the body and the brain. It echoes the knowledge of past generations, showcasing that increased physical activity is a predictor of a healthier aging brain,” said Dr. Attariwala, senior author of this paper.

This research highlights an easy way to keep our brains healthy: stay active! Whether it’s a daily walk or a favorite sport, regular physical activity can have lasting benefits for our brain health.

About this exercise and neuroscience research news

Author: Diana Murray
Source: IOS Press
Contact: Diana Murray – IOS Press
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Closed access.
Exercise-Related Physical Activity Relates to Brain Volumes in 10,125 Individuals” by Patricia Aidem et al. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease


Exercise-Related Physical Activity Relates to Brain Volumes in 10,125 Individuals

Background: The potential neuroprotective effects of regular physical activity on brain structure are unclear, despite links between activity and reduced dementia risk.

Objective: To investigate the relationships between regular moderate to vigorous physical activity and quantified brain volumes on magnetic resonance neuroimaging.

Methods: A total of 10,125 healthy participants underwent whole-body MRI scans, with brain sequences including isotropic MP-RAGE. Three deep learning models analyzed axial, sagittal, and coronal views from the scans. Moderate to vigorous physical activity, defined by activities increasing respiration and pulse rate for at least 10 continuous minutes, was modeled with brain volumes via partial correlations. Analyses adjusted for age, sex, and total intracranial volume, and a 5% Benjamini-Hochberg False Discovery Rate addressed multiple comparisons.

Results: Participant average age was 52.98±13.04 years (range 18–97) and 52.3% were biologically male. Of these, 7,606 (75.1%) reported engaging in moderate or vigorous physical activity approximately 4.05±3.43 days per week. Those with vigorous activity were slightly younger (p < 0.00001), and fewer women compared to men engaged in such activities (p = 3.76e-15). Adjusting for age, sex, body mass index, and multiple comparisons, increased days of moderate to vigorous activity correlated with larger normalized brain volumes in multiple regions including: total gray matter (Partial R = 0.05, p = 1.22e-7), white matter (Partial R = 0.06, p = 9.34e-11), hippocampus (Partial R = 0.05, p = 5.96e-7), and frontal, parietal, and occipital lobes (Partial R = 0.04, p≤1.06e-5).

Conclusions: Exercise-related physical activity is associated with increased brain volumes, indicating potential neuroprotective effects.

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