A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that elderly adults who burned off more calories each week through physical exercise saw an increase in brain volume and a subsequent lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Although many studies have shown that physical activity can be neuroprotective and reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s, this study further expanded the knowledge on this by revealing a link between the burning of calories and increased brain volume.
To arrive at their findings, researchers analyzed data obtained over a 5-year period from 876 adults aged 65 years and older who were participants in the Cardiovascular Health Study. The study participants provided information about their daily physical activities and underwent periodic cognitive assessments and volumetric brain MRIs. Based on this data, it was discovered that higher energy expenditure from a variety of physical activities (walking, tennis, golfing, dancing, etc.) was associated with larger gray matter volume in multiple brain regions. The lead investigator of this study, Dr. Cyrus Raji, MD, PhD, noted that this new research adds to the literature on the brain benefits of exercise “by linking increased gray matter with a twofold risk reduction of Alzheimer’s dementia 5 years after the time of the magnetic resonance imaging scan.”
The More Calories Burned, The Better
The results of this study additionally suggest that the more calories burned, the greater the increase in brain volume and reduction in Alzheimer’s risk. This was evident because, according to Dr. Cyrus Raji, “The highest quartile group of physical activity (500 calories from leisure physical activities) had larger gray matter volumes and reduced atrophy in Alzheimer’s dementia than the lowest quartile (only 50 calories from physical activity).” These findings from the study also suggest that burning calories in and of itself boosts brain volume, regardless of the duration, type or intensity of physical workout. Therefore, even mild physical activity may increase gray matter volume, albeit to a lesser degree. This research helps to further substantiate the importance of staying active throughout life, and especially in old age, as a preventative step against the risks of memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease in the aging brain.
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Brooks, M. (2016, March 30). Burning More Calories Boosts Brain Volume. Retrieved January 4, 2017, from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/861164
Raji, Cyrus, et al. (2016, May 10). Longitudinal Relationships between Caloric Expenditure and Gray Matter in the Cardiovascular Health Study. Retrieved January 04, 2017, from http://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad160057