Brain Size

Another not-so-surprising study…

There always seems to be a new study promoting the importance of exercise and a healthy lifestyle hot off the press, and this week is no different. A new preliminary study from Columbia University in New York suggests that regular, high-intensity exercise is associated with larger brain volume. Generally, as people age, their brain begins to shrink, but this new research suggests that staying active may keep that from happening.

In a study of 1,557 people without dementia (but 296 had mild cognitive impairment) and an average age of 75, researchers questioned the participants about their weekly workout schedule. People were then sorted into three groups based on the level of physical activity in an average week:

  1. No exercise
  2. Moderate exercise: 2.5 hours low-intensity, 1.5 hours moderate-intensity, or 1 hour high-intensity activity per week
  3. High Exercise: 7 hours low-intensity, 4 hours moderate-intensity, or 2 hours high-intensity exercise per week

After scanning the brain of participants and measuring brain volume, researchers concluded that those in the High Exercise group had an average brain size 1.4% larger than people who do not exercise at all. This means that people who exercise at higher levels of intensity and/or duration have a brain that is closer in size to someone 4 years younger than someone of the same age who does not exercise.

Some shortfalls of the study include the lack of reporting how long the participants had been engaging in that level of exercise—had they been active their whole life? Or did they just start a month ago? Also, the study relied on people remembering and accurately reporting their level of exercise.

While there is no indication of how brain size correlated with brain function in this study, we know from previous studies that exercise does have a positive impact, especially in older age groups. More on that topic can be found in our previous post here.

Note that this study was conducted doing expensive brain scans – it would cost you about $1000 each scan if you wanted to monitor changes in brain volume. It is much more effective to obtain measures of brain function (the Brain Gauge is one way that you can do that) not only because those metrics are much less expensive, but because those measures are much more sensitive to alterations in brain function. Improvements in brain function will start to occur before detectable changes in brain volume can be measured.

Click here for the full story.

comments powered by Disqus