They’re all brawn and brain.
Exercising could result in more brain volume, new research suggests.
The study, published last month in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, analyzed brain scans of more than 10,000 individuals, finding that regular exercise — even as little as taking a few thousand steps — could be associated with larger brain volume.
Brain volume is correlate with brain health — less volume indicates cognitive decline and, subsequently, could lead to dementia. An increase or maintenance in brain mass, then, could have “potential neuroprotective effects,” according to the team of researchers.
“We found that even moderate levels of physical activity, such as taking fewer than 4,000 steps a day, can have a positive effect on brain health,” study co-author Dr. David Merrill, the director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Brain Health Center, said in a statement.
“This is much less than the often-suggested 10,000 steps, making it a more achievable goal for many people.”
The 10,125 participants, who were an average age of 52, underwent whole-body magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to determine their brain volume relative to their exercise levels.
Whether walking, running or playing sports, people who participated in moderate to vigorous activity — exercise that increases their pulse rate and respiration for a minimum of 10 minutes — had more brain mass in multiple regions, such as the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory; gray matter, which helps process information; and the occipital, frontal and parietal lobes.
“Our research supports earlier studies that show being physically active is good for your brain,” study author Dr. Cyrus A. Raji explained. “Exercise not only lowers the risk of dementia but also helps in maintaining brain size, which is crucial as we age.”
The study adds to previous research that has shown a link between exercise and decreased dementia risk.
One study last year found that doing just one minute of squats to offset prolonged sitting aided cognition and brain function, while a report from 2022 concluded that just 15 minutes of walking per day slashed the risk of Alzheimer’s by 33%.
Meanwhile, experts have warned against common behaviors or conditions that could expedite the development of dementia, such as alcohol abuse, vitamin D deficiency, inflammation or chronic stress.