Regular Exercise Benefits Mind and Body

Theodore J. Batlas, Psy.D.
Jersey Shore University Medical Center

A commitment to high-intensity exercise may keep more than just your body in good shape. New research reveals that long-term aerobic activity may also boost a person's brain function.

In the study from the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine's (IEEM) Cerebrovascular Lab at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, brain structure and function was compared in 10 athletes and 10 sedentary people.

The types of brain function they looked at included muscle control, executive function (a type of cognition that includes working memory, self-monitoring and the ability to suppress distractions) as well as other neurological functions.

The study participants included 10 Masters athletes, average age 73 years, who had at least 15 years of competitive aerobic training, and 10 sedentary people of a similar age and education level. The investigators found that the brain's white matter fiber was better preserved among the athletes than the inactive people.

In the human brain, white matter plays the critical role of transmitting messages between different regions of gray matter -- areas where functions such as seeing, hearing, speaking, memory and emotions take place. So, without sufficient white matter, gray matter can't do its job, as is the case for many people with various forms of dementia, the study authors explained in the news release.

According to the IEEM, "Without properly functioning white matter, people can begin to show signs of neurological problems. They can lose the ability to do simple daily tasks that we take for granted."

The researchers concluded that their study sheds some light on the mysteries of the aging brain, such as how brain blood flow is related to its structure and function. Most notably, the study showed the long-term benefits of aerobic exercise on brain health and how it can fight off dementia and other typical signs of aging.

"There is research that suggests that even modest levels of exercise can boost brain function. A commitment to an exercise program seems like a small investment when one considers the associated health benefits,” says Theodore J. Batlas, PsyD, psychology and neuropsychology expert at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, part of Meridian Neuroscience. “With my genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s disease as incentive, I plan to progress to a more rigorous running regimen with the goal of completing another marathon.”

To help shed further light on this disease, Meridian Neuroscience physicians including Dr. Batlas will be launching a Memory Disorders program that will help to enhance our understanding of dementias like Alzheimer’s disease, with the goal of assuring that our patients are properly medicated at the earliest stages.

Patients that enter the program will undergo a medical examination and receive various cognitive tests designed to identify memory disorders and other intellectual decline associated with dementia. By gathering medical and cognitive information on each patient we will be able to evaluate the effects of exercise, medication and other factors in preventing cognitive decline.

The findings of the IEEM study were scheduled for presentation this week at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, held in conjunction with the World Congress on Exercise Is Medicine, in Denver. Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.