Prominent Neuroscientist Documents Cognitive Benefits Of Exercise At All Ages

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Consistent exercise can have a significant impact on cognitive health, Northeastern University neuroscientist Arthur Kramer said during a talk today at the Global Brain Health and Performance Summit presented by The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. As Kramer explained, new evidence shows that even moderate-but-frequent exercise can result in some major improvements in brain health— just 2 1/2 hours of exercise a week could stave off declines in brain function by as much as three years, Kramer said.

According to Kramer, “Lifestyle is one way to push ourselves above that functional threshold for as long as possible.” Exercise is an aspect of lifestyle that can have an especially tangible impact, regardless of someone’s age or existing brain health. During his presentation, Kramer cited a 2004 study showing that early Alzheimer’s patients who exercised had “half a standard deviation benefit” in some aspects of brain function compared to a control group. More recent studies of Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis patients found similar results, with Ohio State University psychologist Ruchika Prakash finding growth in gray matter and white matter in the brains of MS patients who continued exercising.

The benefits of exercise can also be observed in young and healthy brains. Kramer discussed a study showing that children who engaged in routine physical activity performed especially well in a virtual reality-based study in which they were required to find their way across a busy street. Meanwhile, Kramer noted that kids who get less exercise have smaller hippocampuses, a part of the brain that’s crucial for memory.

Kramer’s work shows that the connectivity between the different parts of the brain, and the size and health of key regions of the brain, improves as the result of exercise. And this appears to be true for a wide variety of people, of different ages and baseline levels of neurological health. “Across interventions, studies find positive effects of fitness training on cognition, and that the cognitive benefits are quite large,” Kramer said.

Dr. Ali Rezai, Director of Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Stanley D. and Joan H. Ross Center for Brain Health and Performance. For more, visit The Huffington Post’s Brain Health page.