Posts tagged cognition
Daily Activity Shown To Improve Brain Health In Aging Adults And Elderly Even Those With Brain Pathology

The cognitive benefits of aerobic exercise are well established with trained individuals demonstrating decreased risk of mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, and improvements of cognitive function and memory compared to their sedentary peers. More recent research has documented daily physical activity is also associated with decreased risk of dementia in aging adults even in those with pathology on brain imaging such as neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques. Both of these brain pathologies are associated with dementia and alzheimer’s disease. Further previous research has shown moderate walking, 45 minutes/day for 3 days/week, actually increased brain volume among particpants. A recent study suggests even general activity such as light housework and gardening may be enough to improve brain health within this population.

Buchman and colleagues examined the impact of daily movement (gardening, housework, exercise) on cognitive and motor function, as well as, brain health (Neurology. 2019). Researchers performed a well designed trial of over 450 aging adults (> 70 y.o.) and monitored their mental and physical function, as well as, daily activity each year over a 20 year period. Of these adults, 191 demonstrated clinical signs of dementia during the study period. In addition, researchers studied the donated brains of these individuals after their deaths to determine the presence of brain abnormalities and pathology.

Consistent with prior research, more active participants demonstrates higher scores on cognitive, memory, and physical tests. Interestingly, these results held up even among individuals with brain pathologies including neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques. Although all of these individuals could have been diagnosed with neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, 30% tested normally on cognitive function tests at the time of their deaths. Authors suggested exercise and activity may have a protective effect on brain health (symptoms) even in the presence of brain changes (signs of dementia). Authors recommend more research in this area to determine if there is a cause and effect relationship between these two factors.

Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Memory and the Aging Brain

Active adults have many health advantages over their sedentary peers.  The effects of aerobic exercise are widespread across a trained individual's emotional, physical, and mental health.  Recent research has highlighted the beneficial effects of aerobic exercise on anxiety, depression, cognition, and memory.  Many areas of the brain are sensitive to the effects of aerobic exercise and can be positively effected by this training.  In particular, the hippocampus, a small organ in the brain's limbic system crucial for long term memory and spatial navigation, has shown both neurogenesis and slower age related declines in trained individuals.  Researchers believe these positive effects are due in part to an increase in blood vessel formation and circulation driven by aerobic exercise.  In addition, exercise is also correlated with an increase in white matter within the brain.

A recent review of the medical evidence was conducted to determine the impact of aerobic exercise on hippocampus size in humans (Firth et al. 2018).  The authors included 14 studies utilizing brain imaging before and after aerobic exercise training.  They concluded exercise helped prevent the age related declines in nerve and hippocampus health.  Thus, exercise was not shown to improve hippocampus volume but instead preserved the organ's size compared to sedentary groups.  


Impact of Exercise on Brain Health and Memory

The physical benefits of exercise including decreased risk of disease and death as well as improved strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination are well known.  The benefits of exercise on our emotional and mental health are promising and continue to be explored.  The exercise and neuroscience literature continues to produce great evidence behind the utilization of exercise to prevent, treat, and improve our mental health and function.  A recent article examined the association between aerobic exercise and cognitive function in young adults (18-30 years old).  

Whiteman and colleagues researched the association between aerobic fitness and cognitive function among 33 healthy adults (Neuroimage. 2015).  Participants were tested for aerobic fitness using a treadmill test, brain volume and activity, as well as cognitive function.  A positive association was found between higher cardiovascular endurance (VO2 max), brain volume, and cognitive function including memory.  

This evidence adds to our existing knowledge on the beneficial effects of aerobic exercise on brain health.  These benefits are noted after a single walk, as well as, in trained individuals.  To learn more about how exercise can benefit your health contact your local Physical Therapist.