Keep exercising: New study finds it's good for your brain's gray matter

January 02, 2020

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Cardiorespiratory exercise -- walking briskly, running, biking and just about any other exercise that gets your heart pumping -- is good for your body, but can it also slow cognitive changes in your brain?

A study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases provides new evidence of an association between cardiorespiratory fitness and brain health, particularly in gray matter and total brain volume -- regions of the brain involved with cognitive decline and aging.

Brain tissue is made up of gray matter, or cell bodies, and filaments, called white matter, that extend from the cells. The volume of gray matter appears to correlate with various skills and cognitive abilities. The researchers found that increases in peak oxygen uptake were strongly associated with increased gray matter volume.

The study involved 2,013 adults from two independent cohorts in northeastern Germany. Participants were examined in phases from 1997 through 2012. Cardiorespiratory fitness was measured using peak oxygen uptake and other standards while participants used an exercise bike. MRI brain data also were analyzed.

The results suggest cardiorespiratory exercise may contribute to improved brain health and decelerate a decline in gray matter. An editorial by three Mayo Clinic experts that accompanies the Mayo Clinic Proceedings study says the results are "encouraging, intriguing and contribute to the growing literature relating to exercise and brain health."

Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic neurologist and first author of the editorial, says the most striking feature of the study is the measured effect of exercise on brain structures involved in cognition, rather than motor function. "This provides indirect evidence that aerobic exercise can have a positive impact on cognitive function in addition to physical conditioning," he says. "Another important feature of the study is that these results may apply to older adults, as well. There is good evidence for the value of exercise in midlife, but it is encouraging that there can be positive effects on the brain in later life as well."

Dr. Petersen is the Cora Kanow Professor of Alzheimer's Disease Research and the

Chester and Debbie Cadieux Director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

The study's finding of higher gray matter volume associated with cardiorespiratory exercise are in brain regions clinically relevant for cognitive changes in aging, including some involved in Alzheimer's disease. The editorial calls those associations interesting but cautions against concluding that cardiorespiratory fitness correlations would affect Alzheimer's disease.

"This is another piece of the puzzle showing physical activity and physical fitness is protective against aging-related cognitive decline," says Michael Joyner, M.D., a Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist and physiologist, and editorial co-author. "There's already good epidemiological evidence for this, as well as emerging data showing that physical activity and fitness are associated with improved brain blood vessel function. This paper is important because of the volumetric data showing an effect on brain structure."

Dr. Joyner is the Frank R. and Shari Caywood Professor at Mayo Clinic.

Long-term studies on the relationship between exercise and brain health are needed, which will be costly and logistically challenging to produce. "Nevertheless, these data are encouraging," says Clifford Jack Jr., M.D., a Mayo Clinic neuroradiologist and co-author of the editorial. "The findings regarding cardiorespiratory fitness and certain brain structures are unique."

Dr. Jack is the Alexander Family Professor of Alzheimer's Disease Research.

According to Mayo Clinic experts, moderate and regular exercise -- about 150 minutes per week -- is recommended. Good cardiorespiratory fitness also involves:University Medicine Greifswald, Germany, also was part of the research project. Katharina Wittfeld, Ph.D., a researcher at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Disease, is first author.
-end-
About Mayo Clinic Proceedings

Mayo Clinic Proceedings is a monthly peer-reviewed medical journal that publishes original articles and reviews dealing with clinical and laboratory medicine, clinical research, basic science research, and clinical epidemiology. Mayo Clinic Proceedings is sponsored by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research as part of its commitment to physician education. It publishes submissions from authors worldwide. The journal has been published for more than 90 years and has a circulation of 127,000.

About Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization committed to innovation in clinical practice, education and research, and providing compassion, expertise and answers to everyone who needs healing. Visit the Mayo Clinic News Network for additional Mayo Clinic news and An Inside Look at Mayo Clinic for more information about Mayo.

Media contacts:

Susan Barber Lindquist, Mayo Clinic Public Affairs, 507-284-5005, newsbureau@mayo.edu

Ethan Grove, Mayo Clinic Public Affairs, 507-284-5005, newsbureau@mayo.edu

Rhoda Madson, Mayo Clinic Public Affairs, 507-284-5005, newsbureau@mayo.edu

Mayo Clinic

Related Physical Activity Articles from Brightsurf:

Physical activity in the morning could be most beneficial against cancer
The time of day when we exercise could affect the risk of cancer due to circadian disruption, according to a new study with about 3,000 Spanish people  

Physical activity and sleep in adults with arthritis
A new study published in Arthritis Care & Research has examined patterns of 24-hour physical activity and sleep among patients with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and knee osteoarthritis.

Regular physical activity seems to enhance cognition in children who need it most
Researchers at the Universities of Tsukuba and Kobe re-analyzed data from three experiments that tested whether physical activity interventions lead to improved cognitive skills in children.

The benefits of physical activity for older adults
New findings published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports reveal how physically active older adults benefit from reduced risks of early death, breast and prostate cancer, fractures, recurrent falls, functional limitations, cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and depression.

Physical activity may protect against new episodes of depression
Increased levels of physical activity can significantly reduce the odds of depression, even among people who are genetically predisposed to the condition.

Is physical activity always good for the heart?
Physical activity is thought to be our greatest ally in the fight against cardiovascular disease.

Physical activity in lessons improves students' attainment
Students who take part in physical exercises like star jumps or running on the spot during school lessons do better in tests than peers who stick to sedentary learning, according to a UCL-led study.

Physical activity may attenuate menopause-associated atherogenic changes
Leisure-time physical activity is associated with a healthier blood lipid profile in menopausal women, but it doesn't seem to entirely offset the unfavorable lipid profile changes associated with the menopausal transition.

Are US adults meeting physical activity guidelines?
The proportion of US adults adhering to the 'Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans' from the US Department of Health and Human Services didn't significantly improve between 2007 and 2016 but time spent sitting increased.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds do less vigorous physical activity
Children from disadvantaged backgrounds and certain ethnic minority backgrounds, including from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds, have lower levels of vigorous physical activity, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge.

Read More: Physical Activity News and Physical Activity Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.