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Physical fitness promotes brain health

Physical fitness promotes brain health


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Physical fitness and regular exercise prevent dementia

For years it has been pointed out that the number of people with dementia continues to rise. A key risk factor in developing dementia is physical inactivity. Regular exercise and exercise, however, are effective against the neurodegenerative disease. Various scientific studies have indicated this. A new study now also provides relevant information.

A new study provides evidence - but no clear evidence - for the thesis that physical fitness promotes brain health. Researchers from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) and the University Medical Center Greifswald analyzed data from over 2,000 adults and found that the better the physical fitness, the larger the brain volume. The results were published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings journal.

"Physical inactivity is a risk factor for dementia"

As stated in a joint press release by the DZNE and the University Medical Center Greifswald (UMG), dementia is becoming one of the greatest challenges in medical care in the face of increasing life expectancy.

Since there are no effective therapies so far, especially for Alzheimer's disease, prevention is becoming increasingly important. It is about delaying the occurrence of dementia or even preventing it.

“Physical inactivity is a risk factor for dementia. In contrast, physical fitness and regular exercise seem to have a preventive effect. Various studies suggest this. However, the mechanisms behind this are unclear, ”explains Prof. Hans Jörgen Grabe, research group leader at the DZNE location in Rostock / Greifswald and director of the UMG Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy.

For example, scientists from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found evidence that physical fitness can protect women from the development of dementia. Her study results were published in the journal "Neurology".

And German researchers found in scientific studies that physical fitness improves cognitive performance.

Positive impact on brain health

The new study also suggests that physical activity can indeed have a positive impact on brain health and cognitive performance. A research team around Prof. Grabe and private lecturer Dr. Sebastian Baumeister, research assistant at UMG, analyzed data from the so-called SHIP study with regard to the question of whether physical fitness is related to brain volume.

According to the information, the SHIP study (Study of Health in Pomerania) deals with factors for health and illness in the population. Several thousand people from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania take part in it.

Data from a total of 2,103 women and men between the ages of 21 and 84 were taken into account for the current study. The median age was 52 years. As part of the SHIP study, these people underwent a stress test on a bicycle ergometer and in further examinations their brains were measured using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Larger brain volume

In order to determine physical fitness, the test persons breathed in and exhaled air under maximum load and the "maximum oxygen uptake" was determined. This provides information about the training status of the cardiovascular system.

These measured values ​​and the MRI data were used in a statistical analysis for the current study. Conclusion: "We have found a positive connection between physical performance and brain volume: the better the physical fitness, the larger the brain volume," explains Dr. Katharina Wittfeld, DZNE scientist and first author of the current publication.

“The effect affected not only the total volume, but also individual brain areas that are important for memory as well as for emotional and reward-related behavior. The so-called hippocampus also includes a brain region that is involved in Alzheimer's disease. Here, too, we see that physically fit people tend to have a larger hippocampus than people who are less fit. "

Slowing age-related breakdown of the brain mass

"The data now available support the hypothesis that cardiorespiratory fitness could contribute to improved brain health and a slower age-related breakdown of the brain mass," says Hans Jörgen Grabe.

The current study is one of the most extensive studies to date on the relationship between physical fitness and brain volume. It also shows a broad cross-section of the adult population.

"To improve cardiorespiratory fitness, physical activity is strongly recommended and should be part of prevention programs to lead a healthy lifestyle," recommends Grabe. However, the release points out that current results do not prove that exercise actually increases brain volume.

"The statistical relationship between fitness and brain volume, which we found, says nothing about the causes," the scientist from Greifswald restricts. In this way, no sporting activities of the participants in the experiment were recorded, nor was it examined whether the brain volume changed through training over longer periods of time.

“The subjects only recorded the current status. We are also facing a chicken and egg problem. It cannot be ruled out that the size of some areas of the brain affects brain function in such a way that they are particularly motivated to exercise and are therefore physically fitter. Then sport would not be the cause of an increased brain volume, it would be the other way around. ”

Counteract the loss of nerve cells

However, other studies do suggest that regular exercise can increase brain volume.

“Exercise has been shown to release the body's own substances, which can counteract the loss of nerve cells. There are also indications that physical activity can stimulate the formation of new nerve cells. Both phenomena could possibly explain the effects on brain volume that we and similar studies have shown, ”said Grabe.

The current study found a relationship between physical fitness and brain volume not only in young people but also in older adults. The researcher considers this observation to be particularly important: "This indicates that the promotion of physical fitness could perhaps help to maintain brain mass even in late years and thus stay fit in the head for as long as possible," says Grabe. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Swell:

  • German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases and University Medicine Greifswald: Joint press release: Is physical fitness good for the head ?, (accessed: January 25, 2020), German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases
  • Katharina Wittfeld, Carmen Jochem, Marcus Dörr, Ulf Schminke, Sven Brille, Martin Bahls, Marcello R.P. Markus, Stephan B. Felix, Michael F. Leitzmann, Ralf Ewert, Robin Bülow, Henry Völzke, Deborah Janowitz, Sebastian E. Baumeister, Hans Jörgen Grabe: Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Gray Matter Volume in the Temporal, Frontal, and Cerebellar Regions in the General population; in: Mayo Clinic Proceedings, (Published: January 2020, Volume 95, Issue 1, Pages 44-56), Mayo Clinic Proceedings
  • Helena Hörder, Lena Johansson, XinXin Guo, Gunnar Grimby, Silke Kern, Svante Östling, Ingmar Skoog: Midlife cardiovascular fitness and dementia, A 44-year longitudinal population study in women; in Neurology, (published: August 10, 2018), Neurology


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