Cardiorespiratory Exercise Helps Preserve White Matter in Our Brain

Man Running/ Chev Wilkinson Cultura/ Getty Images.

Sometimes, we all need a little extra push to get our bodies moving. If the upcoming swimming suit weather or the resulting improvements in physical health aren't enough motivation, how about the benefit of keeping our brains working well?

Research outlined in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology might provide that motivation.

A study was conducted on 32 older adults, ages 55-82, and 27 younger adults, ages 18-31.

They each underwent magnetic resonance imaging to evaluate the health and integrity of the white matter in their brains. The participants' cardiopulmonary (heart and lung) health was also tested through a two-minute treadmill test while their heart rate, oxygen consumption, blood pressure, respiratory exchange ratio and ECG waveforms were monitored.

The Results

The researchers anticipated- and found- that the brains of the older adults showed a decline in white matter volume and structure. 

However, they also noted another important finding. The older adults who demonstrated higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness also had greater white matter integrity in certain areas of their brains.

Decreased white matter volume in older adults has been correlated with a decline in processing speed, episodic memory and executive functioning.

Next Steps

Cardiorespiratory fitness is improved by activities such as walking, running, dancing or swimming. But is improving your cardiorespiratory fitness the best way to protect your brain? That's up for debate.

Some research has compared several types of physical exercise and concluded that a different type of fitness activity is the best for our brains.

Whatever you choose, what's important is that you do something since research has repeatedly shown a correlation between physical exercise and improved brain health and functioning.

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Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology. Article first published online: 24 APR 2015.

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