How To Prevent Your Brain From Shrinking [Study]

It is no surprise that physical fitness is an integral aspect to one’s health. Many flock to the gym three times a week or more, practice yoga, weightlifting, or engage in a plethora of other physical activities to get lean, build muscle, and stay in shape. However, fitness has more benefits than mere aesthetics. In the immediate, regular exercise can lead to strength, improved sleep, heart health, and mental performance. Additionally, a recent study has shown that regular fitness throughout one’s 40s can protect the brain from shrinking later on in life.

Per Yahoo! Health, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine have discovered a connection between brain tissue volume at 60 years old and the amount of fitness done in one’s 40s. The connection lies in one’s blood pressure. Essentially, the less fit the person, the higher his or her blood pressure and heart rate will be when experiencing minimal levels of exercise. Such a phenomenon would not occur in a physically fit individual.

Nicole L. Spartano, Ph.D., lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at the Boston University School of Medicine, made a statement further explaining the connection to one’s diminishing brain size.

“Small blood vessels in the brain are vulnerable to changes in blood pressure and can be damaged by these fluctuations… Vascular damage in the brain can contribute to structural changes in the brain and cognitive losses. In our investigation we wanted to determine whether exaggerated blood pressure fluctuations during exercise were related to later structural changes in the brain.”

The study included 1,271 volunteers who participated in treadmill tests in the 1970s. The average age of the participant was 41. Beginning in 1999, those same individuals underwent MRI scans and cognitive testing when said participants were in their 60s. It was discovered that people with a lower fitness level or higher diastolic blood pressure (a few minutes into the low intensity treadmill test) had smaller brain tissue volume. Similarly, those same participants did poorly on the administered cognitive tests.

There is hope, however, and, as this study suggests, it lies in incorporating physical fitness into one’s routine. As Spartano stated, “this study provides more evidence that certain behaviors and risk factors in midlife may have consequences for brain aging later on.”

Incorporating a workout into one’s already busy schedule is simpler than expected. Short, yet intense, workouts are effective and efficient. Depending on one’s fitness level, walking more can represent a great way to be more active, and involving oneself in a sport may increase motivation to remain physically fit.

[Image by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]