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New evidence of how exercise protects brain health

A growing collection of research has documented the enormous benefits of exercise, including the role of physical activity in boosting brain health. And now, a new study published by the American Academy of Neurology suggests that exercise may help protect brain volume by supporting healthy insulin and body mass index levels.

“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 study author Dr. Géraldine Poisnel. “Older adults who are physically active gain cardiovascular benefits, which may result in greater structural brain integrity.”

The study was focused on 134 people with an average age of 69 who did not suffer from any memory issues. The individuals reported their physical activity over the past year, and had brain scans to measure their brain volume and glucose metabolism. 

The researchers noted that reduced glucose metabolism in the brain can be seen in people with dementia. The study participants also submitted info on BMI and insulin levels.

An analysis of the data revealed that people who exercised the most frequently had a higher total volume of grey matter in their brains. This group had an average of about 550,000 cubic millimeters of brain volume compared to about 540,000 cubic millimeters of volume in people who exercised the least. 

In addition, the experts found that people with the most activity had a higher average rate of glucose metabolism in the brain.

According to Dr. Poisnel, further research is needed to understand the mechanisms behind these relationships. “Maintaining a lower BMI through physical activity could help prevent disturbed insulin metabolism that is often seen in aging, thus promoting brain health.”

The study is published in the journal Neurology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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