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Exercise Increases Brain Power: Study

Turns out, you don’t have to turn to additives to increase your brain power as according to a new study, working up a sweat is sufficient.

Researchers from Australia’s National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University and the Division of Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Manchester in the U.K. examined the effects of aerobic exercise on a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is demanding for memory and other brain functions.

Brain health decreases with age, with the average brain shrinking by almost five % per decade after the age of 40. Studies in mice and rats have regularly shown that physical exercise increments the size of the hippocampus but until now confirmation in humans has been conflicting.

The researchers regularly reviewed 14 clinical trials which examined the brain scans of 737 people before and after aerobic exercise programs or in control conditions.

The participants contained a mix of healthy adults, people with mild mental impairment such as Alzheimer’s and people with a clinical diagnosis of mental illness including depression and schizophrenia. Ages ranged from 24 to 76 years with an average age of 66.

The researchers examined effects of aerobic exercise, containing stationary cycling, walking, and treadmill running. The length of the mediation ranged from three to 24 months with a range of 2-5 sessions per week.

Overall, the results displayed that, while exercise had no effect on total hippocampal volume, it did well increment the size of the left region of the hippocampus in humans.

Lead author Joseph Firth said that the study gives some of the most definite evidence to date on the advantages of exercise for brain health.

He noted that during exercise, a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic element (BDNF) is produced, which may help to avert age-related decline by reducing the downturn of the brain.

Firth added that along with increasing regular ‘healthy’ ageing, the results have significance for the avoidance of ageing-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia – however further research is required to establish this.

Interestingly, physical exercise is one of the very few ‘proven’ techniques for maintaining brain size and functioning into older age.

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