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Regular exercise makes your brain bigger

An international team of researchers has identified a strong link between regular exercise and enhanced brain health.

The study was conducted by clinical researchers from the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Brain Health Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.

The comprehensive research involved extensive MRI brain scans from 10,125 individuals at Prenuvo imaging centers. The results shed light on the profound impact of regular exercise on our brain’s structure and function.

Enlarged brain areas 

The experts found a correlation between physical activities such as walking, running, or sports, and an increase in the size of critical brain areas involved in memory and learning. 

The research highlights a notable enlargement in gray matter, crucial for processing information, and white matter, which serves as the communication hub between different brain regions. 

Additionally, the hippocampus, a vital area for memory, showed significant expansion in those who regularly engaged in physical exercises.

Positive effects on brain health

“Our research supports earlier studies that show being physically active is good for your brain. Exercise not only lowers the risk of dementia but also helps in maintaining brain size, which is crucial as we age,” said lead researcher Dr. Cyrus A. Raji.

“We found that even moderate levels of physical activity, such as taking fewer than 4,000 steps a day, can have a positive effect on brain health,” said study co-author Dr. David Merrill, director of the PBHC. “This is much less than the often-suggested 10,000 steps, making it a more achievable goal for many people.”

Larger brain volumes 

Study co-author Dr. Somayeh Meysami is an assistant professor of Neurosciences at Saint John’s Cancer Institute and the Pacific Brain Health Center.

“Our research links regular physical activity to larger brain volumes, suggesting neuroprotective benefits. This large sample study furthers our understanding of lifestyle factors in brain health and dementia prevention,” said Dr. Meysami.

Modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s

The research builds upon a 2020 Lancet Study that identified about a dozen modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, including physical activity. It also extends previous work by the same group, which connected caloric burn from leisure activities to improved brain structure.

“This study demonstrates the influence of exercise on brain health imaging and when added to other studies on the role of diet, stress reduction and social connection offer the proven benefits of drug-free modifiable factors in substantially reducing Alzheimer’s disease,” said George Perry, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Study implications 

“With comprehensive imaging scans, our study underscores the interconnected synergy between the body and the brain. It echoes the knowledge of past generations, showcasing that increased physical activity is a predictor of a healthier aging brain,” said study senior author Dr. Attariwala.

The research offers a compelling argument for the power of regular exercise as an easy and effective way to maintain brain health. 

Whether it’s a daily walk or engaging in a favorite sport, the study confirms that staying active has lasting benefits for our cognitive well-being, potentially transforming our approach to aging and brain health maintenance.

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