Study confirms link between exercise and changes in brain

A recent study shows how regular exercise can have positive effects on brain function. From a press release by Illinois scientists involved in the research:
Three key areas of the brain adversely affected by aging show the greatest benefit when a person stays physically fit. The proof, scientists say, is visible in the brain scans of 55 volunteers over age 55.

A new study in the February issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences . . . is the first to show -- using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging -- anatomical differences in gray and white matter between physically fit and less fit aging humans. Gray matter consists of thin layers of tissue of cell bodies such as neurons and support cells that are critically involved in learning and memory. White matter is the myelin sheath containing the nerve fibers that transmit signals throughout the brain. As people age, especially after age 30, these tissues shrink in a pattern closely matched by declines in cognitive performance, Kramer said. . . .

Women on estrogen replacement therapy benefited [from exercise] more than women not on it.

Other main conclusions from the meta-analysis:
* Exercise programs involving both aerobic exercise and strength training produced better results on cognitive abilities than either one alone.
* Older adults benefit more than younger adults do, possibly, Kramer said, because older adults have more to gain as age-related declines become more prevalent.
* More than 30 minutes of exercise per session produce the greatest benefit, a finding consistent with many existing guidelines for adults.

"These intriguing data suggest there may be one more possible benefitfrom regular exercise," said Molly V. Wagster, program director for the Neuropsychology of Aging, Neuroscience and Neuropsychology of Aging Program of the NIA, which supported the work.

See the entire press release here . . .