Exercise increases brain size, new research finds

Modesto Morganelli
Novembre 14, 2017

In a first of a kind study, researchers from Australia's National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) and the Division of Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom found evidence in humans that exercise helps to maintain the hippocampus, a structure critical for memory and other brain functions.

Brain health decreases with age, with the average brain shrinking by about five per cent per decade after the age of 40.

They found that aerobic exercise in humans led to an actual increase in the size of the left hippocampus region of the brain which is critical for memory and other brain functions.

The subjects ranged in age from 24 to 76 with an average age of 66 and included both healthy participants as well as those with mild cognitive impairments (like Alzheimer's) and those with a clinical diagnosis of mental illness (like depression and schizophrenia).

For the study, the researchers systematically reviewed 14 clinical trials which examined the brain scans of 737 people before and after aerobic exercise programs or in control conditions.

A new study suggests aerobic exercise can increase the size of a region of the brain that plays an important role in consolidating memories, among other functions.

The authors conclude that "these results provide meta-analytic evidence for exercise-induced volumetric retention in the left hippocampus".

The researchers looked at the effects on the participants of various exercises including cycling on an exercise bike, walking and running on a treadmill for between three and 24 months, with sessions taking place between 2 and 5 times a week. "Aerobic exercise interventions may be useful for preventing age-related hippocampal deterioration and maintaining neuronal health".

"Our data showed that, rather than actually increasing the size of the hippocampus per se, the main "brain benefits" are due to aerobic exercise slowing down the deterioration in brain size".

Mr Firth said along with improving regular "healthy" ageing, the results have implications for the prevention of ageing-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's and dementia - however further research is needed to establish this.

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