Exercise and the Aging Brain

Aerobic exercise may protect against age-related brain volume loss.

Posted Apr 06, 2018

Exercise is sustenance for your heart and soul. Exercise is beneficial for mental health, physical fitness, maintaining a healthy weight, and sleep. Recent evidence suggests that we can add brain health to this list. 

Exercise is good for neurons. Aerobic activity may help the brain stay healthier as we age. 

In a 2018 study—recently published in the journal NeuroImage—investigators reviewed thousands of articles about aerobic exercise interventions and brain size. The interventions involved, for example, stationary cycling, walking, or treadmill running. They found 14 studies in adults—many of the other studies were conducted in mice or children—that compared the size of a key brain region before and after an aerobic exercise intervention.      

The key brain region is called the hippocampus. 

The hippocampus is a seahorse-shaped, deeply buried region of the brain that is essential for learning and remembering new information. The hippocampus tends to decrease in size with age and it is one of the earliest parts of the brain to shrink in Alzheimer’s disease. So this is a case of "bigger is better." A larger hippocampus is a sign of brain health.

The studies revealed that aerobic exercise had significant positive effects on the size of the hippocampus. Exercise appeared to prevent age-related decreases in hippocampal size, particularly in on the left, language-dominant side of the brain. 

Spring has arrived! Walks in the park, anyone?