Researchers Say A Specific Type Of Exercise Can Increase Brain Size And Improve Cognition Better Than Others

Set aside the brain games for a moment, and consider dusting off the running shoes or slipping into a swimsuit, because new research indicates that aerobic exercise might be a better option than Sudoku for fighting the age-related condition known as mild cognitive impairment. Mild cognitive impairment develops into Alzheimer’s disease eight out of 10 times, so it is a bigger deal than just forgetting where you put your purse or the name of your favorite movie.

New research confirms that aerobic exercise can increase brain size and improve cognition, according to Medical News Today. A team led by Dr. Laura D. Baker from Wake Forest School of Medicine (WFSM) in Winston-Salem, NC, examined 35 adults with mild cognitive impairment. In a randomized, controlled trial, the team divided the study participants into two groups. One group participated in aerobic activities including treadmill, stationary bike, and elliptical training. The control group engaged in non-aerobic exercise. The participants trained four times each week for six months.

The participants underwent magnetic resonance scans before and after the six-month period. The images were compared using conventional and biomechanical metrics. The researchers examined changes in brain volume and shape.

“We used high-resolution MR [magnetic resonance] images to measure anatomical changes within areas of the brain to obtain both volumetric data and directional information,” co-author Dr. Jeongchul Kim, explained.

The results were presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Executive function actually improved with aerobic activity, even at the limited amounts and for the limited time involved in the study.

“Even over a short period of time, we saw aerobic exercise lead to a remarkable change in the brain,” Baker said, as reported in a press release.

“Study participants were tested to determine the effect of exercise intervention on cognitive performance,” the press release announced. “Participants in the aerobic exercise group showed statistically significant improvement in executive function after six months, whereas the stretching group did not improve.”

The aerobic-exercising adults had improved significantly more in executive function than the control group, even though the control group was still exercising. Both groups experienced a volume increase in almost all gray matter areas of the brain. Even the grey matter in the temporal lobe, which is responsible for short-term memory, increased in both groups. The aerobic exercising group’s brains increased significantly more, though.

Also, the aerobic group experienced increased directional stretch of brain tissue and less local atrophy within the white matter tracts.

Dr. Jeongchul Kim explained that any type of exercise could be beneficial, but aerobic activity seems to have a greater potential to increase cognitive functioning.

An earlier article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences had noted that aerobic exercise could increase the volume of the hippocampus. Exercise training had actually increased hippocampal volume by two percent and reversed age-related loss in volume by one to two years!

Meanwhile, several studies at the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center are ongoing and look at exercise as a possible way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Sacramento Bee.

“We think exercise might actually modify the disease process,” Jeffrey Burns of the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center said. “We think it may do more than (current) medication.”

In the last eight years, more than 20 studies have indicated that even a little physical activity can maintain and even improve cognitive function, according to the Sacramento Bee. The more physically active people are and the more aerobic exercise they participate in, the less brain shrinkage they experience from aging, the research consistently indicates.

As with any change in plans, if you have a health condition, be sure to check with your health care provider to see what kind of exercises you can safely engage in.

[Featured Image by Skeeze/Pixabay/Public Domain]