New research highlights the positive influence of an active lifestyle on brain health.
- Researchers found that an active lifestyle can preserve brain structure in older adults.
- Lifestyle factors examined included recreational sports, gardening and yard work, bicycling, dancing and riding an exercise cycle.
- More than 35 million people worldwide have dementia.
"We had 20 years of clinical data on this group, including body mass index and lifestyle habits," Dr. Raji said. "We drew our patients from four sites across the country, and we were able to assess energy output in the form of kilocalories per week."
The lifestyle factors examined included recreational sports, gardening and yard work, bicycling, dancing and riding an exercise cycle.
The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a technique called voxel-based morphometry to model the relationships between energy output and gray matter volume.
"Gray matter volume is a key marker of brain health. Larger gray matter volume means a healthier brain. Shrinking volume is seen in Alzheimer's disease, " said Dr Raji.
After controlling for age, head size, cognitive impairment, gender, body mass index, education, study site location and white matter disease, the researchers found a strong association between energy output and gray matter volumes in areas of the brain crucial for cognitive function. Greater caloric expenditure was related to larger gray matter volumes in the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes, including the hippocampus, posterior cingulate and basal ganglia. There was a strong association between high energy output and greater gray matter volume in patients with mild cognitive impairment and AD.
"Gray matter includes neurons that function in cognition and higher order cognitive processes," Dr. Raji said. "The areas of the brain that benefited from an active lifestyle are the ones that consume the most energy and are very sensitive to damage."
Dr. Raji said the positive influence of an active lifestyle on the brain was likely due to improved vascular health.
"Virtually all of the physical activities examined in this study are some variation of aerobic physical activity, which we know from other work can improve cerebral blood flow and strengthen neuronal connections," he said.
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The above story is based on the November 26, 2012 news release by the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).
The research was presented the same day at at the annual meeting of the RSNA. Gach HM, Carmichael O, Becker JT, Lopez O, Thompson P, Longstreth W, Kuller L, and Kirk Ericson K coauthored the paper.