Regular exercises can improve brain functioning

Exercise memory

Exercise memory

In a first of its kind worldwide collaboration, 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 United Kingdom examined the effects of aerobic exercise on a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is critical for memory and other brain functions.

Typically, the size of the brain decreases approximately 5 percent every decade from age 40 onwards.

They found that aerobic exercise in humans led to an actual increase in the size of the left hippocampus region of the brain which is critical for memory and other brain functions.

The participants, aged between 24 and 76 years, included a mix of healthy adults, people with mild cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer's and people with a clinical diagnosis of mental illness including depression and schizophrenia.

In collaboration with the University of Manchester in Britain, Firth's team analyzed the results of 14 clinical trials which examined the effects of exercise programs on brain size. "Aerobic exercise interventions may be useful for preventing age-related hippocampal deterioration and maintaining neuronal health".

The exercise involved included stationary cycling, walking, and running on a treadmill, two to five times a week, for durations ranging from three to 24 months.

Exercise! Study after study touts the enormous benefits exercise has to offer, the latest confirming that aerobic exercise can improve memory function and maintain brain health as we age.

Lead author Dr. Joseph Firth, an NICM postdoctoral research fellow, said the study provides some of the most definitive evidence to date on the benefits of exercise for brain health. Animal studies have shown that exercise actually increases the size of the hippocampus, but until now proof that the same occurs for humans has been inconsistent. "In other words, exercise can be seen as a maintenance programme for the brain".

Firth says that along with improving regular healthy aging, the results have implications for the prevention of aging-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's and dementia but further research is needed to establish this.