BUFFALO, N.Y. (MEDIA GENERAL) — By now most folks have heard the well-worn advice to eat well and exercise more, but now new evidence is suggesting that physical fitness is connected to brain size later in life.
Study looks at fitness and effect on brain
The research was conducted as part of the ‘Framingham Heart Study’ which began in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1948 as a way to study the effects of aging over a long period of time.
The study, which is now on its third generation of participants, looked at the connection between the cardiovascular fitness of people in their 40’s and how their brains developed over time.
James Leverenz, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic, did not take part in the study, but he said the findings drew an interesting conclusion.
”What they noticed was that people who were not as in good of shape at 40, had smaller brain sizes at 60,” said Dr. Leverenz.
According to Dr. Leverenz, researchers were not able to attribute the differences in brain sizes to differences in thinking skills.
Participants who developed smaller and larger brains scored similarly on memory tests conducted while in their 60’s.
Dr. Leverenz believes that more research needs to be done to determine whether smaller brain size impacts the risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s in folks once they reach their 70’s or 80’s.
Exercise good for the brain
Dr. Leverenz said exercise can affect the brain indirectly through better general health.
He added that exercise might even directly improve brain health through improved blood flow and increased growth factors needed for brain cell health.
While the study was not able to prove that physical fitness had a direct impact on brain aging in later life, Dr. Leverenz said that staying in good shape is a good way to help preserve the health of the entire body, including the brain.
“I think it reinforces what a lot of us have been saying that things like exercise are good for your brain, keeps your brain healthier, and this is evidence that actually, your brain is larger if you exercise and you’re in better shape, said Dr. Leverenz.