According to a study, an active lifestyle helps preserve gray matter in the brains of older adults and could reduce the burden of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers examined how an active lifestyle can influence brain structure in 876 adults, average age 78 years. The patients’ condition ranged from normal cognition to Alzheimer’s dementia.
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.
Voxel-based morphometry is an advanced method that allows a computer to analyze an MR image and build a mathematical model that helps us to understand the relationship between active lifestyle 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.
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 Alzheimer’s disease.
Gray matter includes neurons that function in cognition and higher order cognitive processes. 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.
The researchers said the positive influence of an active lifestyle on the brain was likely due to improved vascular health.
The study results show that brain aging can be alleviated through an active lifestyle.
Video of the Brain
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