We recently discussed how lifestyle changes can prevent dementia. Exercise, in particular, has been shown to attack cognitive decline from several angles. But how does exercise protect your brain?
Another new study has investigated this question. Healthy older adults participated in an exercise program (30 minutes of indoor cycling, 3 times a week, for 12 weeks), then had their brains scanned.
Even after this relatively brief exercise program—we can probably all find 1.5 hours a week to exercise—positive changes in the brain were seen. This study focused on brain metabolism. Compared to the control group, the folks who exercised improved in measures of physical fitness, and those changes led to improvements in brain metabolism. In particular, choline, a marker of neurodegeneration associated with Alzheimer’s, was stabilized in the brains of people who exercised.
In this study, exercise didn’t immediately lead to changes in cognitive performance, but with a small number of participants only tested a few times during the brief intervention, that’s to be expected. Major changes take time—if you make brain health a habit, regularly monitoring your exercise and cognition, you’re likely to see how these physical changes in your brain translate into better brain performance.