This 2006 study by Colcembe et al., set out to determine if aerobic exercise had an effect on the brain volume in healthy, older adults.
Participants and Protocol:
Researchers split 59 older, sedentary participants (60-79 years old) into one of two groups:
Exercise Intervention Group: Performed 3, 1-hour aerobic exercise sessions per week for 6-months. The goal was to improve aerobic performance by increasing Heart Rate Reserves (HHR)* from 40-50%, at the beginning, to 60-70% toward the end of the intervention. The exercise itself was performed on a treadmill.
*HHR is a way to measure exercise heart rate.
Non-Exercise Control Group: Performed 3, 1-hour whole-body stretching and toning sessions per week for 6-months. The program was designed for individuals 60 years and older.
Younger Group: The third group of 20 younger adults (18-30 years old) participated in the study. They did not engage in any intervention but were used as controls. The researchers did not expect their brain volumes to change over the 6-month intervention.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) was used to examine brain volume. Images were taken 1-week pre-intervention, and no more than 1-week post-intervention.
What they Found:
The exercise intervention group had a substantial increase in brain volume, primarily in the prefrontal and temporal cortices. These regions are often shown to atrophy (degeneration of tissue) as people age, leading to many cognitive impairments. Schizophrenia, in the prefrontal cortex, and Alzheimer’s dementia, in the temporal region, are a few examples of the impairment. Aerobic exercise has been shown to increase brain volume in these areas.
We all want to live for many healthy years. However, we are constantly seeing people’s lives altered from cognitive impairments, including memory loss and dementia. Exercise may not be the cure but has shown to be a healthy “medicine” to help delay or even prevent the onset of these horrific diseases.
A few stigmas related to exercise is 1) I don’t have enough time, 2) Sweat…Gross!, and 3) I don’t know what to do or where to start. All are legitimate points, but let’s not make things overly complicated. Exercise does not have to take a lot of time out of the day and you don’t have to buy expensive gym equipment to reap the health benefits.
Start here. For the next 7 days, make it a priority to engage in some form of physical activity for 20 minutes each day. That could include going for a walk in your neighborhood, playing catch with your son or daughter, or taking advantage of the many fitness opportunities available at BE Fitness. You may have to miss the beginning of this week’s Bachelor episode to complete it 😉!
This is what I do. Every day after work, I come home, grab a bite to eat, and go for a walk around my neighborhood listening to podcasts which makes the time fly by. I truly enjoy it! Find some physical activity that you love to do and commit to it. Your brain will be glad you did!
Colcombe, S. J., Erickson, K. I., Scalf, P. E., Kim, J. S., Praksash, R., McAuley, E., Elavsky, S., Marquez, D. X., Hu, L., Kramer. A, F. (2006). Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences. 61(11), 1166-70.