New Study Shows Exercise Linked to Brain Health

If you have been skipping the gym because beach days are over for the year, you might want to reconsider. A study focused on the connection between exercise and brain health has just shown a definitive link between the two. Apparently, working out to shed the pounds can also increase the size of your brain.

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 UK studied the link between exercise and the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for memory and other functions. The reason for the study lies, in part, in the fact that brain size is known to decrease as one ages — by up to 5 percent per decade after the age of 40. And while studies on lab rats have shown a connection between exercise and brain size, no one has looked at that link in humans. Until now.

According to Science Daily, the researchers examined a group of people ranging in age from 24-76 years old. The group included healthy adults, those living with Alzheimer's disease, and others with known depression and schizophrenia. The study looked at the effects of exercise on these individuals, "including stationary cycling, walking, and treadmill running. The length of the interventions ranged from three to 24 months with a range of 2-5 sessions per week."

The results showed an increase in the size of the left region of the hippocampus.

"When you exercise you produce a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which may help to prevent age-related decline by reducing the deterioration of the brain," [lead author, Joseph] Firth said.

"Our data showed that, rather than actually increasing the size of the hippocampus per se, the main 'brain benefits' are due to aerobic exercise slowing down the deterioration in brain size. In other words, exercise can be seen as a maintenance program for the brain."

Dr. Firth said that the study shows that exercise can help not only with "healthy aging," but could also slow down neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's.