Couch Potatoes May Have Smaller Brains Later in Life

couchHere’s something to jolt you off the couch and get you exercising: a study published Feb. 10, 2016, in Neurology links poor fitness levels in middle age to brain shrinkage 20 years later.

“We found a direct correlation in our study between poor fitness and brain volume decades later, which indicates accelerated brain aging,” said study author Nicole Spartano, PhD, with Boston University School of Medicine in Boston.

The researchers, including some from Harvard Medical School, looked at the cardiovascular fitness of about 1,100 people, average age of 40, who were free of dementia and heart disease. The participants had taken treadmill tests to determine their cardiovascular fitness levels based on how much oxygen their bodies used during exercise. About 20 years later, participants took another treadmill test and underwent neuropsychological testing and MRI brain scans. The scans showed that people who were unfit in middle age had smaller brains in older age, compared with people who were fit in middle age. This doesn’t prove that inactivity in midlife causes brain shrinkage. But previous studies have shown that regular, moderate-intensity exercise may be associated with slower brain aging.

Here’s the good news – It’s never too late to start!

According to another  recent  study, even people who hold off on regular aerobic activity until later in life may still be able to gain from exercise in their senior years. As people get older, it is natural for some regions of the brain to begin to shrink. For instance, studies show the hippocampus shrinks one to two percent annually in people without dementia — a loss that is associated with an increased risk for developing cognitive difficulties. A recent study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recruited a group of healthy, sedentary adults from ages 55 to 80 to participate in a yearlong exercise program.

These adults were divided into two teams — one spent their time walking for 40 minutes three days per week while the other performed a variety of strength and balance exercises during this time. At the start, middle, and completion of the study, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the volume of the hippocampus. The size of the hippocampus increased by 2 percent on average in the adults that completed the walking regimen and memory improved. In contrast, the participants who completed a yearlong balance and strength training program experienced a 1 percent decrease in the volume of the hippocampus.

These findings suggest that brain and cognitive health can benefit from very modest increases in exercise and physical activity. So, to all you couch potatoes – get up off that couch!  It’s never too late to reap the benefits of exercise!

Here’s more good news – It’s never to early to start!

If genetically your brain is wired in a dys regulated manner it can become more dys regulated as you age.  You can take a preventative approach to brain health –by  teaching your brain how to operate in a regulated manner.  Neurofeedback is scientifically proven approach that teaches the brain to wire and fire in a more regulated state and can create change in your thoughts and actions.