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Exercise and Brain Health

Exercise may boost gray matter volume.

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Photoshopped image with brain on bicep to show link between exercise and brain health

Exercise promotes brain health, but the exact mechanism underlying this relationship remains unclear. New research reveals that older adults who have the highest physical activity levels also have a higher total volume of gray matter and a higher average rate of glucose metabolism in the brain than their less active counterparts. Higher physical activity was also associated with lower insulin levels and body mass index. Study subjects included 134 men and women (average age 69) with no memory issues.

“These results may help us to understand how physical activity affects brain health, which may guide us in developing strategies to prevent or delay age-related decline in memory and thinking skills,” said senior study author Géraldine Poisnel, PhD, of the Inserm Research Center in Caen, France.

The findings suggest a connection between lower BMI and insulin levels and positive cognitive function. “Older adults who are physically active gain cardiovascular benefits, which may result in greater structural brain integrity,” said Poisnel. Study limitations include the fact that subjects self-reported physical activity.

The study on exercise and brain health is available in Neurology (2022; 98 [20], e2023–35), the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

See also: Older Adults and Brain Fitness

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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