How much exercise is needed to increase brain volume

New research, recently featured in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, reveals a remarkable connection between exercise and increased brain volume

Looking into brain scans from over 10,000 participants, the study establishes that even minimal physical activity, such as taking a few thousand steps, may contribute to larger brain volume, a key indicator of cognitive health [1].

Brain volume is a crucial marker for brain health, with diminished volume associated with cognitive decline and the potential onset of dementia [2]. The study suggests that exercising or increasing brain mass could offer significant neuroprotective benefits [3].

Contrary to the commonly advocated 10,000 steps a day, the study discovered that even moderate physical activity levels, like walking fewer than 4,000 steps, can positively impact brain health. 

Dr David Merrill, co-author and director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Brain Health Center, emphasizes the practicality of this finding, making it a more attainable goal for many individuals.

The average-aged participants, around 52 years old, underwent whole-body MRI scans to evaluate their brain volume relative to their exercise levels.

The results showed that individuals engaging in moderate to vigorous activities, elevating their pulse rate and respiration for at least 10 minutes, exhibited increased brain mass in critical regions such as the hippocampus (responsible for memory), gray matter (processing information), and the occipital, frontal, and parietal lobes.

Dr Cyrus A. Raji, another study author, underscores the importance of their findings by stating that exercise not only diminishes the risk of dementia but also helps maintain crucial brain size as individuals age.

This study aligns with earlier research highlighting the connection between exercise and a reduced risk of dementia.

Notably, previous studies have shown that simple activities, such as a minute of squats to counteract prolonged sitting, positively influence cognition and brain function. 

Additionally, a report from 2022 concluded that just 15 minutes of daily walking could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by 33% [4].

However, amidst these positive revelations, experts caution against behaviors or conditions that might hasten dementia development.

Factors like alcohol abuse, vitamin D deficiency, inflammation, and chronic stress are identified as potential accelerators of cognitive decline.

This groundbreaking research challenges the notion that extensive exercise is necessary for brain health.

Instead, the study suggests that even minimal physical activity can profoundly affect brain volume, offering a practical and achievable approach to promote cognitive wellbeing.


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