As individuals age, the concern about cognitive decline becomes a significant focus. Dementia affects millions of people, but the National Institute on Aging emphasizes that it is not a “normal” part of aging. Despite feeling like an uncontrollable circumstance, there are proactive steps one can take to maintain cognitive sharpness. A recent study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, reveals that even a modest amount of exercise, just four minutes, can contribute to keeping the brain young.
The study involved 10,125 healthy participants aged 18 to 97, with an average age of 53, conducted by researchers at the Pacific Brain Health Center in California. Notably, those who engaged in physical activities like running, walking, or sports, totaling less than four minutes a day (or 25 minutes per week), exhibited larger brain volumes, regardless of age. Cyrus A. Raji, MD, the lead researcher, explained that the study aimed to explore the impact of a “very low threshold of exercise” since more extensive goals, such as 10,000 steps or 150 minutes per week, can be challenging for many individuals.
Brain volume was determined using whole-body MRI scans and artificial intelligence to correlate results with exercise habits. Both men and women who achieved at least 25 minutes of exercise showed greater brain volume, particularly in key areas like gray matter, responsible for processing information, and the hippocampus, associated with memory. These areas tend to shrink with age, potentially increasing the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
The study also suggested that taking fewer than 4,000 steps a day positively affects brain health, challenging the commonly recommended 10,000 steps. While the study’s nature is associational, meaning the direct link between exercise and larger brains isn’t entirely clear, researchers are optimistic about the results. They propose that physical activity might reduce brain inflammation and contribute to the creation of new brain cells and blood vessels.
Cyrus A. Raji mentioned that exercise may establish a “structural brain reserve” to protect against age-related brain size reduction. The study underscores the interconnected synergy between the body and the brain, reinforcing the idea that increased physical activity is a predictor of healthier aging brains. Raj Attariwala, MD, senior author and radiologist, emphasized the simplicity of the solution: staying active through activities like daily walks or favorite sports can have lasting benefits for brain health.