It is a well-known fact that exercise is crucial to living a long and healthy life. Being healthy doesn’t imply just physical fitness; Health is a state of physical, mental and social well being. A recent study has revealed that exercise changes the route of brain blood flow and thus improves cognitive performance in the elderly.
The Research At University of Maryland School of Public Health
Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Health made an incredible finding in a recent study. The study discovered that physical activity and exercise could result in an improvement in the brain function of adults who were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The improved brain function in MCI patients was associated with decreased blood flow to the vital parts of the brain.
Dr. J. Carson Smith is an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. “A reduction in blood flow may seem a little contrary to what you would assume happens after going on an exercise program,” said Dr. Smith. “But after 12 weeks of exercise, adults with MCI experienced decreases in cerebral blood flow. They simultaneously improved significantly in their scores on cognitive tests.”
Smith’s opinion is in huge contrast with the general opinion of brain physiology. In general, increased blood flow is considered to be good for any and all vital organs. However, Smith stated, “For people who are beginning to experience subtle memory loss, the brain is in “crisis mode” and may try to compensate for the inability to function optimally by increasing cerebral blood flow. While elevated blood flow is usually considered beneficial to brain function, there is evidence to suggest it may actually be a harbinger of further memory loss in those diagnosed with MCI.”
Exercise results in increased blood flow to the peripheral skeletal muscles and this in turn theoretically could result in transiently reduced blood supply to the other vital organs. The research findings suggest that the effect of exercise on the body’s circulation could potentially reduce the compensatory blood flow and consequently improve cognitive efficiency in the early stages of Alzheimer’s diseases.
An interesting finding was discovered when a similar exercise training program was done on a control group comprised of healthy older adults. The training program involved four 30-minute sessions of moderate-intensity treadmill walking per week. The group responded differently to the training program from the dementia group. In the control group, the training program resulted in increased cerebral blood flow in the frontal cortex after twelve weeks. Despite the increased blood flow, the cognitive tests also showed improved results.
Alzheimer’s disease results in atrophic changes in specific key parts of the brain, including
1. The insula: involved in perception, motor control, self-awareness, and cognitive functioning
2. The anterior cingulate cortex: involved in decision making, anticipation, impulse control, and emotion
3. The inferior frontal gyrus: involved in language processing and speech
These three regions involved in Alzheimer’s disease were assessed to measure any changes in the cerebral blood flow.
1. In The left insula and the left anterior cingulate cortex
Findings: Decreased cerebral blood flow
Results: Improved performance on a word association test used to measure memory and cognitive health
2. Neural Networks of the brain
Findings: Decreased cerebral blood flow
Results: Improved positive changes in the brain’s neural networks known to be associated with memory loss and amyloid accumulation, which are both signs of MCI and Alzheimer’s.
“Our findings provide evidence that exercise can improve brain function in people who already have cognitive decline,” said Smith. “We have an interest in targeting people who are at increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s earlier in the disease process. We are seeing that exercise can impact biomarkers of brain function in a way that might protect people by preventing or postponing the onset of dementia.”