Study Finds An Exercise Prescription To Improve Brain Health

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Woman Running on a Treadmill at the Gym

Studies have proved certain diets, regular exercise, and access to nature have protective benefits when it comes to the brain. Despite that extensive research, Alzheimer's disease (AD) is still incurable. According to new findings, though, prescribing regular aerobic training might be an effective treatment.

A study published in Brain Plasticity found regular aerobic exercise not only improves physical health but also improves cognitive functioning, which might protect against AD

Researchers studied 23 adults with genetic predispositions for AD. All participants led sedentary lives prior to the study and were split into two groups to test the effects of aerobic exercise. 

One half was educated on maintaining an active lifestyle but weren't given tools to hold them accountable. The other half received personal training, doing moderately intense treadmill exercise, three times a week for six months. 

Because the exercises weren't high-intensity and participants weren't expected to work out every day, the practices proved to be sustainable. Following the six months with a trainer, the active training group spent less time being sedentary than before. They also improved their body's ability to stay oxygenated during prolonged physical exercise (called cardiorespiratory fitness, or CRF). 

Less expected—but arguably more promising—were the improvements in cognitive functioning, including planning, focusing attention, remembering instructions, and successfully multitasking.

Though the brain benefits and CRF improvements might seem like two separate effects, they are actually correlated. Enhanced CRF was linked to a boost in brain glucose metabolism in the posterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain associated with AD.

"This research shows that a lifestyle behavior—regular aerobic exercise—can potentially enhance brain and cognitive functions that are particularly sensitive to the disease," said lead researcher Ozioma C. Okonkwo, Ph.D. 

Though the study is relevant and promising to people with a family history of AD, the research will need to be conducted on a larger group to confirm the results. "If these findings are replicated," said lead author Max Gaitán, MEd, "they would have a tremendous impact on quality of later life, providing individuals with more years of independent living, active engagement with loved ones, and building memories."

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