We all know that regular physical exercise is important for our health, but most of the time, the importance of this isn’t taken very seriously – in many cases we simply don’t have the motivation to be physically active (not counting the desire to lose weight or gain muscle, as these are well known and have been extensively covered). However, here I present another reason to stay physically healthy: it’s good for your brain.
A study done in Finland confirmed that aerobic activity stimulates the birth of new neurons (neurogenesis) in the hippocampus of adults which, consequently, increases the volume of the brain. Unfortunately the flipside is also true – being out of shape in your middle aged years can lead to shrinking of the brain as you get older.
A study done at Boston University arrived at the same results as the Finnish study. The American study lasted for two decades, with 1,583 participants, each around 40 years old. At the start of the experiment, the participants ran on a treadmill that measured each of their physical capabilities. Two decades later, these participants returned to carry out the same test, but were also given an MRI test. The physical capability of each person in the study was measured using their heartbeat – that is, how long it took each participant to reach the target heart rate. In this test, the scientists measured the maximum rate of oxygen metabolization by the body in a minute (abbreviated VO2); the lower the VO2, the less physically fit the person.
The results showed that people who were more out of shape in the 90s will now, two decades later, have measurably decreased brain volume. The following correlation was observed: for every 8 ml/kg/min VO2 less measured while on the treadmill, the brain ages and shrinks ONE EXTRA YEAR
Therefore, thanks to these studies, we have evidence that physical activity is important for cognitive functions throughout our lives. Even though these days find us running about faster and faster (but not physically running – that’s far less common), we need to take a small amount of time to care for our brain – and to care for our body at the same time.
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