What Is the Link Between Exercise and Brain Health?

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The role of fitness on mental health
Exploring exercise, the brain and the connections between them. Photo from Pixabay.

Being physically active can do wonders for the body – and the mind. Find out how exercise and brain health relate in this post from Anabel Cooper. Also, what does this connection mean for the aging population globally?

It’s long been the assumption that there is some kind of link between physical fitness and brain health. However, the majority of studies investigating this link used a methodology that was less than completely accurate. Generally, scientists have depended on self-reporting by volunteers on their levels of exercise. However, a recent series of tests adopted a new methodology and found:

  • Increase in aerobic fitness, reflected by integrity of white matter
  • The largest results for executive and memory function
  • Poor aerobic fitness leads to poor memory and reasoning results

A New Way to Measure Exercise and Brain Health

So, what was this new methodology? Aerobic tests were carried out with and measured by VO2 Max or maximum oxygen uptake. As a result, scientists were able to take precise measurements of their participants’ fitness levels. From these results, they were able to work out some definite correlations between exercise and brain health. The key was the link between fitness levels and integrity of white matter.

That’s not to say that fitness is the “be all and end all,” or that it plays a definitive role in the development of white matter, though. The scientists noticed that in many cases there was little difference in development between a subject with high fitness levels and one without. However, there is nevertheless an important correlation.

Exercise and brain health: the mind matters
Exercise and brain health relate – New VO2 Max research shows a correlation. Photo via Pixabay.

Exercise and Brain Health Research Impacts Seniors

While these results may have little significance for younger people, their effects on an aging population are significant. Naturally, the importance of fitness throughout a person’s life is important. However, considering the impact physical exercise could have on the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease, these results are worth sharing.

The surge in an aging population is set to have serious effects on our approach to healthcare and aged care. Already, countries like Japan are struggling to find solutions to the problem. An aging population requires a high amount of care, and that required for dementia and Alzheimer’s sufferers is even higher still. The ability to slow down the effects of Alzheimer’s could play a significant role in reducing the necessary care an aging person may need regularly.

Definitive Answers Have Not Yet Been Found

That said, the scientists behind the recent experiment have been quick to point out that while there is certainly a correlation, they are yet to agree on specifics. For example, how much exercise is needed to make a difference, and whether specific types of exercise have a greater effect than others, remain unanswered.

However, given the progress the current experiment has made, we hope to get answers to these questions soon. The ability to issue a definitive compilation of advice for aging people looking to make the most out of their fitness could prove extremely useful. What is perhaps most remarkable is that this is the first time that scientists investigating the link between exercise and brain health have based their methodology around V02 Max readings, rather than reported personal experiences. This change in approach is responsible for this newly available data.

How to Best Support an Aging Population

What is clear is that, with an increasing senior population globally, scientists and others in many countries are trying to come up with a model that can support this aging population. Regardless of the possible effects it may have on the brain, higher fitness levels in old age allow for:

Of course, there are limits. Sooner or later, we all die of something, and it may not always be a sudden decline. There is also the danger that we may start shifting the goalposts: an increasingly able and healthy aged population could result in retirement ages being pushed back to try and force those who seem capable to continue to be productive in society.

All these points are more important than ever. But the benefits of fitness to both mental and physical health remain a reality.

Exercise is Difficult in Urban Areas

What might be more of a pressing issue is how an aging population can get enough exercise. The presence of “Blue Zones” around the world has long been seen as a clue of the most beneficial lifestyles for old age. Found in parts of Japan, the Mediterranean, and other places, these areas have exceptionally long living populations.

They are usually rural areas. And scientists point to the benefits that an active life has for the populations there. These activities can include gardening, farming, and walking. With the exercise and brain health link, this is great to see.

But as the number of people in cities continue to grow, the options for old people (and people generally) to get their required exercise get lower. In many parts of the world, cities are becoming very unfriendly to the elderly.

The Trend: Cities and Older People

Over past 20 years or so, cities in developing parts of the world have grown fast. Cars and motorbikes have become more popular than bicycles and public transport as ways to travel. As a result, many of these places are tough to travel around for seniors who no longer have driver’s licenses.

It’s easy for us to underestimate how unfriendly cities can be for an aging population. A hostile street environment can have serious effects on their ability to walk around, and to exercise comfortably. That city life is in direct contrast to the long and happy life many older people have in rural areas. Given the above evidence of exercise and brain health linking, seniors in urban areas aren’t getting advantages mentally.

Healthcare, Exercise and Brain Health

While it is certainly not at the level of a crisis, the growing aging population around the world does raise many questions for a younger generation. Advances in healthcare promise to add to an ever-growing elderly population, increasing the demand for adequate care.

Japan is already trying to solve this problem. They are finding innovative, kind ways to deal with it. Rather than trying to keep the elderly working longer, and adding to the economy, they are looking for how to give them the retirement they deserve.

Considering current trends in the West, it seems unlikely that we’ll see a similar thing here. It may be time for the elderly to consider getting more exercise in anticipation of a continually rising retirement age.

What do you think about exercise and brain health? Do you think seniors in cities are going to have problems soon?

About Today’s Writer

Anabel Cooper on how to have a healthy mind
Blogger Anabel Cooper shares health content, including exercise and brain health.

My name is Anabel Cooper and I’m an editor and blogger from Harlow in the UK.

Health issues and mental aspects of the modern world inspire me. Enjoy my article to learn more about the link between exercise and brain health.

By the way, social activities also influence the personality. Read more about different social activities here.

134 COMMENTS

  1. Great article for our mental and physical well-being.Thank you,dear Christy.
    Also thanks for your visit and comment,I needed some help but you didn’t notice … Please reread my reply,if you have some time to spare.

      • All is sorted out,thanks for coming over again.I have left a comment on Twitter,it has to do with your poetry book “Parhways to Illumination”.Loved it dear Christy,its emotionality has touched the deepest recesses of my soul … xxx

        • I have just come from Twitter and appreciate your feedback on the book, Doda. I send much love to you <3

        • Maybe try setting a timer to go off every few hours to remind you to take a break? I know it’s easy to go long stretches at the desk without getting up. I hope you have a nice weekend, Norah xo

  2. I found this post very positive. I have always loved to exercise and try to keep fit because of the way it makes me feel during the activity and afterwards. The benefits continue throughout the day allowing me to accomplish many things. I firmly believe the less you do…the less you can do. Great read Christy as usual.

  3. I read this post with a lot of interest. It is true that people are living much longer and the balance of working people to people on pensions is out of kilter making it more difficult to keep giving the elderly the healthcare and lifestyles they deserve. I think us younger generation will work until we drop looking at the debt burdens of the western world.

    • It’s true that I see many people continuing to work past retirement age as they simply cannot afford to stop working… Your thoughts are appreciated, Robbie.

  4. Walking, I’ve harped on it for years, is an underrated exercise. I’m happy to see it included in this article. Especially, (just ask me) as one ages, certain things we have taken for granted come to the forefront. Knee problems, joints, backache, muscle strain, mobility and pain issues, prevent one from participating in aerobics, even yoga and Pilates to a larger extent.
    Now, it’s time to walk. With the correct footwear, garb, proper pacing and choosing weather days wisely, I can easily walk for 2 hours. Four hours is also very doable, if I have the time. My joints may be limited, but the muscles involved in walking are strong and help protect the weaker areas. Practice posture (my weakness from sewing and computer) and core muscle work outs while walking, and wow, best night’s sleep ever.
    PS: I walk with very soft/gentle knee supports and Salon Pas in my purse, just in case! Haven’t had to use the knee supports for many years. (had a ripped knee and ankle ligaments injury about 12 years ago).

  5. As a writer, i’m often sitting at my desk and try to take regular breaks to get up and move my body. I definitely need to move around faster and do different exercises though as it makes me feel more awake and alert. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Thanks so much for writing this! The fact that this can create a real impact in the health of Alzheimer’s patients means its something to really take more seriously. Regardless there is It’s sometimes hard to articulate why losing weight doesn’t always equal happiness. Of course there are many reasons to lose weight and exercise and there’s a great article about it, but I really appreciate you shedding light on this specific aspect of exercise. Thanks again Christy!

  7. nice blog post! the information is very helpful and useful thank you for sharing this amazing blog here. Keep posting such kinds of posts in the future.

  8. Thanks for the interesting article! It would surprise me if there wasn’t a link between physical exercise and brain health (or if researchers would ever find out that physical exercise is bad for your brain). I’ve also heard that people who work longer actually live longer. That’s maybe because people become too inactive during retirement?

    • Oh that’s interesting about the potential link between working longer and living longer. Perhaps retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be… Thanks for the feedback!

  9. Very interesting article. You’ll have to check out my blog- I have some very similar articles that concern fitness and the brain!

  10. There are many good reasons to be an active. British Columbia university research the regular aerobic exercise is good for your heart and your sweat glands pumping. The Regular exercise exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means.

  11. Beautiful blog! Truly our body’s capacity is very high n most of just abuse it consuming junk. Thanks for making me more aware of good health! Keep posting such kinds of posts in the future.

  12. I found this post very positive. I have always loved to exercise and try to keep fit because of the way it makes me feel during the activity and afterwards. The benefits continue throughout the day allowing me to accomplish many things. I firmly believe the less you do…the less you can do. Great read Christy as usual.a

  13. Very useful information. Thank you Christy B for sharing. I am regularly doing some physical activities those keeps me whole day active and stress free.

  14. I am an advocate of mental health and I would prefer more profound mental health over physical health as your brain drives your body and if you’re brain is happy then surely the inner-you is happy too. Tragic events where top celebrities like Avicii, Rick Genest, Kate Spade and somewhere Chester Berrington too and also sources claim that Demi Lovato took an overdose due to an unstable mind. It’s really important to keep the inner-you happy and in my recent post I’ve tried mentioning ways to keep it happy. Looking for your inputs.

  15. Being on a fitness journey myself , this article captured my attention from the start. This study is amazing , to think that taking care of your body and exercising can help you also with your long term mental health. I am a firm believer of overall fitness and this has me excited!

  16. A good blog indeed. Improvisation is the key for getting good exercise in urban areas. Taking stairs in place of elevators, short -brisk exercises in HIIT mode, standing work stations etc. may be a few of these.

  17. Great post, Christy!

    Physical activity or exercise can improve your health and reduce the risk of developing several diseases like type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

    Thanks for sharing the important article with us.

  18. This is very informative post.It is also helpful for us.I really enjoyed your article.Thank’s for sharing your post.

  19. This is such an amazing informative article, Thanks Christy B for sharing this much.
    Keep adding more information on unique and meaning ful topics.

  20. Hi Christy B,
    Thanks for Sharing a very useful and awesome Articles .I really liked your post and I definitely going to refer your article with to others

  21. Nice post, Christy!

    Physical activity or exercise can improve your health and reduce the risk of developing several diseases like type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

  22. Totally agree health is happiness. I’m my happiest when I’m feeling good. But, having said that, I think there can be some inner peace even in the midst of poor health. Depending on how bad it is.

  23. Great article Christy, sometimes i feel that mental health is much more important than the physical health, as you can achieve good physical health if your mental health strong.

  24. Information like this makes me want to get up and get moving. Although it’s not easy, i guess reading this makes me want to start exercising again plus maybe… just maybe i will seek Japanese citizenship…..Lol

  25. Brain health article is very helpful for me.Mental health is much more important than the physical health.
    Thanks for sharing this information.

    • I would say that both physical and mental health are important and that their connection deems it so ~ One is all the better for the other. Thanks for stopping by!

  26. Hi Christy B, I found this article is awesome and very informative. your article aware us about the challenges which we are facing between physical fitness and brain health. keep sharing.

  27. thank you Christy for sharing this fitness related blog with us , can you please suggest me how can i promote my health care blog on google , i dont have any idea for that so please check my site and suggest me all idea if you want to help me .

  28. The blog is really interesting especially the information about the aerobic fitness and impact of regular exercise on Alzheimer’s disease is completely new to me. It is also great to learn the connection between regular exercise and brain functioning. I really enjoyed reading the entire blog and planning do exercise on regular basis.

  29. This blog is really nice. If you are looking for the tips for physical fitness brain health, you are at the right place. Also, you want to know about the best organic heath products here at DBSOUQ

  30. It is brilliant! This is an essential article. I have to move more! I discovered this post extremely positive. I have constantly wanted to exercise and attempt to stay in shape as a result of the manner in which it makes me feel amid the action and a short time later.Thanks christy

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