If getting fit is one of your resolutions for the new year, then you might be improving your brain health as well as your physical health, with new research finding that cardiorespiratory exercise such as walking briskly, running, biking may slow down cognitive changes in the brain.
Carried out by researchers from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases and University Medicine Greifswald, Germany, the new study looked at 2,013 German adults aged 21 to 84 years old and measured their cardiorespiratory fitness using peak oxygen uptake -- the maximum amount of oxygen the body is capable of utilizing in one minute -- while participants used an exercise bike.
Participants also underwent MRI scans so researchers could analyze total brain volume and gray matter volume, which includes regions of the brain involved with cognitive decline and aging.
The findings, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, showed that increases in peak oxygen uptake were strongly associated with increased gray matter volume, which appears to be associated with various skills and cognitive abilities.
The researchers say that the results suggest that cardiorespiratory exercise may help improve brain health and decelerate a decline in gray matter.
In an editorial by three Mayo Clinic experts that accompanies the new study, the authors say that the results are "encouraging, intriguing and contribute to the growing literature relating to exercise and brain health."
"This provides indirect evidence that aerobic exercise can have a positive impact on cognitive function in addition to physical conditioning," says Ronald Petersen, MD, PhD. "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."
According to Mayo Clinic experts, adults should engage in around 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise. However, good cardiorespiratory fitness is not only down to regular exercise, but also involves not smoking, following a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and managing blood pressure and cholesterol levels and reducing blood sugar, which over time can damage your heart and other organs.