Brain Metabolism Can Improve with Exercise

Can Exercise Change How Your Brain Works?

Brain Benefits of Exercise Graphic
Graphic by Men’s Health

A new study suggests that how much, and how often, older adults exercise can impact the breakdown of glucose in the brain. Decreases in brain metabolism (hypometabolism) have been shown to be a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

This is predictive of cognitive decline and the conversion to Alzheimer’s in older adults. Physical activity has been shown to modulate brain glucose metabolism, but it is unclear what level of intensity and duration may be beneficial. Speak to you doctor about staying informed of progress in this area.

A recent NIA-supported study from the University of Wisconsin led by Dr. Ozioma Okonkwo found that even moderate physical activity may increase metabolism in brain regions important for learning and memory. The study asked cognitively normal, late-middle age (average age 64 years old) participants to wear an accelerometer for 7 consecutive days to measure daily physical activity. Scientists were then able to determine the amount of time each individual engaged in light (e.g., a slow walk), moderate (e.g., a fast walk), and vigorous activities (e.g., running). The physical activity data were analyzed to determine how they corresponded with glucose metabolism. In particular, the glucose metabolism within brain areas that have been demonstrated to be impacted in people with Alzheimer’s.

How Do I Measure Intensity?

There are 2 different ways to measure Intensity – the level of effort (relative) and the amount of energy (absolute).

See Measuring Physical Activity for more info.

Increasing levels of engagement in moderate physical activity were associated with increases in cerebral glucose metabolism across all brain regions examined. Vigorous activity showed an increase in metabolism only in the hippocampus (an area important for learning and memory). Light physical activity was not associated with changes in metabolism in any of the brain regions examined. Further, how long you engage in moderate physical activity impacts the amount of brain glucose metabolism. The more time spent performing moderate level of physical activity (average 43.3 min/day to average 68.1 min/day), the greater the increase in brain glucose metabolism.

Overall, this study adds to encouraging evidence that physical activity may be beneficial for neurometabolic function. Specifically, it makes a critical contribution to the efforts to identify the intensity and duration of physical activity that confer the most advantage for combating Alzheimer’s-related changes in mid-life.

IMPORTANT: seek the advice of a healthcare professional before you begin an exercise program.

We Need Moderate Physical Activity for Brain Metabolism

As you read above, moderate physical activity may increase metabolism in certain brain regions. And these regions are important for learning and memory. And while I cannot pretend to understand what the increase of metabolism in the brain means for us, I can understand that exercise is extremely important for our quality of life as we age.

So you see, our minds and our bodies depend on us being active as long as possible. There are many factors to consider when starting an exercise routine, so you should always speak to your doctor to see which one is right for you.

If exercising is right for you, be sure to check out Senior Fitness Exercise for exercises to try. Pick several you like, print them out and record your progress on the back of the page. Go slowly and be sure to focus on your form and breathing. It’s never too late.

See our click an exercise type to see an example:

Senior Fitness Exercises for Brain Metabolism

Warm Up – 5 Minutes
Strength Wrist Curl Knee Curl
Balance Stand on One Foot Heel-to-Toe Walk
Flexibility Ankles Back
Cool Down – 5 minutes

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We hope you found this article from NIH beneficial. Thank you for taking time out of your day to spend time with us!

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