Round 2: You Vs. Your Brain


Many experts believe that promoting blood flow to brain tissue by maintaining physical fitness can reduce the risk of damage or deterioration. Animal and human studies have shown that aerobic exercise stimulates the release of growth hormones that may also improve brain function.

In 2017, the United States' National Academies of Sciences reported that, despite advances in understanding dementia, the evidence on treatment and prevention interventions “remains relatively limited and has significant shortcomings.” The idea that increased physical activity may delay or slow age-related cognitive decline is supported by “encouraging but inconclusive evidence,” the report concluded. This was due in part to the small sample of subjects.

In Round 1: You Vs. Your Brain, I wrote about research being conducted by the  University of Texas' O’Donnell Brain Institute lead by senior author and  neurology professor, Rong Zhang.

His team is now involved in an ongoing five-year trial involving more than 600 older adults at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease due to family history and other factors. The research, which is taking place at six medical schools across the USA, aims to determine whether specific exercise routines—paired with blood pressure and cholesterol lowering medication, can reduce the risk of dementia.

Ozioma Okonkwo, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (USA) is also studying the effect of exercise and maintaining a healthy brain. Okonkwo research has shown that the brain benefits of exercise go beyond disease prevention. People who exercise have greater brain volume in areas of the brain associated with reasoning and executive function. “We’ve done a series of studies showing that increased aerobic capacity boosts brain structure, function and cognition,” he says, “Other people have found exercise can improve mood.” Okonkwo’s research has also shown that exercise can diminish the impact of brain changes on cognition, not just prevent it.

Aerobic exercise, like running or cycling, appears to be beneficial for brain health because it increases a person’s heart rate, “which means the body pumps more blood to the brain,” says Okonkwo. 

Strength training, like weight lifting, may also bring benefits to the brain by increasing heart rate. The link between resistance training and better brain health is not as established, but research in the area is growing. For now though, aerobic exercise that involves strength and speed aspects, seems to combine the best of both worlds.

Ding. Box on!