What Is the Link Between Physical Fitness 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 brain health relates to physical fitness in this post from guest blogger Anabel Cooper.

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

  • Increased aerobic fitness is reflected in integrity of white matter
  • The largest results related to executive and memory function
  • Poor aerobic fitness resulted in poor memory and reasoning results

The main way this test differed from previous ones was in a new methodology. Aerobic tests were carried out with and measured by VO2 Max. As a result, scientists were able to take precise measurements of the fitness levels of the participants. From these results, they were able to work out some definite correlations between fitness levels and integrity of white matter. This isn’t to say that fitness is the be all and end all, or that it plays a definitive role in the development of white matter. 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.

The mind matters
Brain health and body fitness relate – but how, exactly? Photo via Pixabay.

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 a given. However, considering the impact fitness 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 such as 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.

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 alight upon any definitive answers. Points such as 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 see these questions answered in the near future. 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 remarkable is that this is the first time that scientists investigating these correlations have thought to base their methodology around V02 readings, rather than reported personal experiences. The resulting change in approach is responsible for this new available data.

What is clear is that, with an increasing senior population around the world, scientists and others in many countries are working to come up with a model that can support this greying population. Regardless of the possible effects it may have on the brain, higher fitness levels in old age allow for increased independence, and a reduced reliance on aged care. Naturally, there are limits. Sooner or later, we all die of something, and it may not always be a swift 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 in order to try and force more productivity on those who are apparently capable of it. All these questions are becoming ever more pressing. But regardless of the implications a more able aged population may have, the benefits of fitness to both mental and physical health remain a reality.

Getting Exercise Is Increasingly Difficult for Urban Populations

What is possibly more of a pressing issue is addressing how an aging population is expected to get their required exercise. The presence of ‘Blue Zones’ around the world has long been seen as a clue regarding the most beneficial lifestyles for old age. Situated in parts of Japan, the Mediterranean, and other places, these are areas which have exceptionally long living populations. They are generally rural areas, and scientists point to the benefits that an active life (gardening, farming, walking) have for the populations there. But with an ever growing urban population, the number of options for old people (and indeed people in general) to get their required exercise is shrinking. In many parts of the world, cities are becoming increasingly unfriendly to the elderly.

The past twenty years or so have seen cities in developing parts of the world rapidly expand, with cars and motorbikes overtaking bicycles and public transport as the means of travel. As a result, many of these place are terrible for the elderly to travel around in. 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. As compared to the long and happy life enjoyed by many older people in rural areas, cities can easily become inhospitable to the aged.

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 confronting this problem already, and finding innovative ways to deal with it in a humane and compassionate way. Rather than seeking to keep the elderly working longer, and adding to the economy, they are searching for a way to provide them with the retirement they deserve. Considering current trends in the West, it seems unlikely that we’re set to see a similar thing here. It may be time for the elderly to consider upping their exercise in anticipation of a continuously raising retirement age.

Anabel Cooper on how to have a healthy mind
Blogger Anabel Cooper shares health content, including how the physical activity affects the brain. Photo provided by Anabel.

About Anabel Cooper

My name is Anabel Cooper and I’m an editor and blogger from Harlow in the UK.
I’m inspired by health issues and mental aspects of modern world. Enjoy my article to know more about the link between physical activities and its impact on the organism.
By the way, social activities also influence the personality. Read more about different social activities here.

72 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. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

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