Lifelong Aerobic Training Preserves Brain Health

by Shirley Archer, JD, MA on Sep 27, 2011

Mind-Body-Spirit News

More evidence that cardiovascular exercise contributes to long-term brain health! In a study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 58th Annual Meeting, held in Denver in June, older adults who had exercised regularly were found to have better motor control and memory than inactive adults of the same age. Researchers from the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine (IEEM) at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, Dallas, a joint research program with the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, wanted to identify the specific part of the brain that benefits from long-term aerobic exercise. This knowledge would help scientists better understand aging, cognitive impairment, the role of exercise and ways of assisting adults who might not be able to participate in consistent aerobic activity. The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to measure the brain structure and cognitive functioning of 10 Masters athletes, average age 73, who had participated in competitive aerobic activities for at least 15 years, and compared these measures with those of 10 inactive older adults of similar ages and education levels. The athletes had more white-matter fiber, which is linked with working memory, motor learning, motor control and visuospatial and visuomotor attention. “As the U.S. population ages, maintaining cognitive vitality and preventing dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, in older adults should be a priority for public health,” said Benjamin Tseng, PhD, lead study author and researcher in the IEEM’s Cerebrovascular Lab. White matter in the brain transmits messages between different regions of gray matter—the neural tissue. When white matter is not functioning well, gray matter cannot perform effectively. People with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia often show signs of white-matter dysfunction. “Without properly functioning white matter, people can begin to show signs of neurological problems,” said Benjamin Levine, MD, director of the IEEM and professor of medicine and cardiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “They can lose the ability to do simple daily tasks that we take for granted. [The study] also tells us that long-term aerobic exercise has definitive, measurable impact on brain health. Most importantly, it lets us know that we have tools that can help fight off dementia and some of the other classic signs of aging with a purposeful, consistent exercise regimen.” Tseng noted that while this study was small, ongoing research is being conducted. To learn more about the center and its research, go to www.ieem

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About the Author

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, was the 2008 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and is IDEA's mind-body-spirit spokesperson. She is a certified yoga and Pilates teacher and an award-winning author based in Los Angeles, California, and Zurich, Switzerland. Two of her books, The Walking Deck and The Strength and Toning Deck, are now featured as iPhone apps. Contact her at