“The human brain seems to benefit from physical activity at each age. Moving matters—especially for those brain regions that are important for learning and memory, such as the hippocampus,” said Carsten Diener, PhD, to IDEA Fitness Journal, as a result of new research available in The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry (2013; doi: 10.3109/15622975.2013.803600).
Prior research (see “Walking Boosts Brain Health, March 2011 Mind-Body-Spirit News) has shown that higher levels of physical activity are associated with more gray-matter volume among older adults. In this new study, researchers from the Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim, Germany, and the University of Heidelberg in Heidelberg, Germany, wanted to determine the effects of physical activity on people of all ages. Ninety-five participants aged 19-82 years were enrolled in the study.
Investigators assessed self-reported activity levels and evaluated MRI images of the brain for gray- and white-matter volumes and densities. Data analysis showed that habitual physical activity was associated with increased volume of both gray and white matter in important brain regions among all individuals, regardless of age.
“Our results are based on correlational analyses, which actually do not allow drawing conclusions about causality,” said Diener. “Future studies should therefore experimentally investigate specific fitness or sports training programs for effects on both structural and functional properties of the human brain across the lifespan.
“Physical activity not only changes the body, but also the brain. The benefit in terms of greater gray-matter volume occurs especially in the hippocampus, a brain region that is of great importance for learning and memory and is typically affected in neurodegenerative diseases and some psychological disorders. We are optimistic that future studies will show that physical activity is related with a bunch of beneficial effects on cognitive health and should attract more interest in public health.”