How Exercise Impacts the Brain

The physical benefits of a good diet and exercise are indisputable, but did you know that simple lifestyle choices like these can have a major influence on your cognitive health later in life? Findings presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference this summer indicate that physical exercise, mental stimulation, social interaction, and proper diet can help keep our brains functioning well into old age.
The Finnish Geriatric (FINGER) Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability is a large-scale, long-term study following 1,260 patients aged 60-77 years old who were at high risk of dementia at the outset of the study. The patients were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The control group received regular cognitive testing and appropriate health care. The other group received an intensive lifestyle makeover: they did resistance training and cardiovascular exercise up to six times a week, received individual nutrition counseling, incorporated regular cognitive training, and saw nurses once every three months to have their blood pressure and cholesterol monitored. They also benefited from the social element of group exercise classes.
After two years of treatment, the benefit of these interventions was striking. Those who received the lifestyle makeover performed significantly better on a comprehensive cognitive examination, with stronger scores on specific tests of memory, executive function, and cognitive processing speed. Your brain may not be the first thing on your mind during an afternoon at the gym, but it is working hard too! Learning new things and giving yourself new physical challenges prevents the brain from losing its edge.
This is thrilling news, as there is currently no guaranteed way to prevent, cure, or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, which is responsible for approximately 500,000 deaths per year in the US alone. While a lifestyle makeover on the magnitude of the FINGER study may not be feasible for all of us, the results of the study are clear: exercise, proper nutrition, mental stimulation, and regular checkups are some of the most reliable ways to maintain good cognitive health.
For ideas on how you can incorporate resistance training and cardio into your workout regimen, visit our Workouts section!
Also, this study and many others like it are funded in part by grants from the Alzheimer’s Association.

To support future research into methods for preventing dementia, as well as caregiver support services in your area,  sign up for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s or walk with the Fitness Galore team on September 27th. For more information click here.

Featured photo by: Harpersbazaar.com