We usually start a fitness training program to improve general health or to lose weight. But, new research shows that a fitness training program can also have some other benefits you might not expect.
A Fitness Training Program Increases Brain Size
A new Australian study shows that aerobic exercise can help keep our brains healthy. An international collaboration between researchers from Australia’s National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University and the Division of Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Manchester in the UK examined the effects of aerobic exercise on a region of the brain called the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain that stores memories, particularly long term memories.
What Happens to Our Brains as We Age
• Brain health decreases with age, with the average brain shrinking by approximately five per cent per decade after the age of 40.
• Studies in mice and rats have consistently shown that physical exercise increases the size of the hippocampus but until this recent study evidence in humans has been inconsistent.
Research on the Effect of Fitness Training Programs on Brain Health
• The researchers systematically reviewed 14 clinical trials which examined the brain scans of 737 people before and after aerobic exercise programs.
• The participants included a mix of healthy adults, people with mild cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s, and people with a clinical diagnosis of mental illness including depression and schizophrenia.
• Ages ranged from 24 to 76 years with an average age of 66.
• The researchers examined effects of aerobic exercise, including stationary cycling, walking, and treadmill running.
• The length of the interventions ranged from three to 24 months with a range of 2-5 sessions per week.
• Overall, the results — published in the journal NeuroImage — showed that, while exercise had no effect on total hippocampal volume, it did significantly increase the size of the left region of the hippocampus in humans.
Fitness Training Programs are Brain Maintenance Programs
Joseph Firth, lead author and NICM postdoctoral research fellow, said the study provides some of the most definitive evidence to date on the benefits of exercise for brain health. “When you exercise you produce a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which may help to prevent age-related decline by reducing the deterioration of the brain.”
Although exercise does not increase the size of the hippocampus, it slows down the deterioration in brain size that happens as we age. According to Firth, “Exercise can be seen as a maintenance program for the brain.”
These results hint that fitness training programs may also be helpful in the prevention of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
A Fitness Training Program Can Protect Your Eyes
People who engage in a fitness training program of moderate to vigorous physical activity may also significantly lower their risk of glaucoma. Research conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles bears this out.
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States and quite common in people over 40. While there are treatments to slow its progression, there is no cure. For a long time researchers did not think that that lifestyle choices played any role in glaucoma. But, several recent studies show that a fitness training program can affect eye pressure, which is a major risk factor for the disease.
Studies Show that a Fitness Training Program Can Prevent Glaucoma
To determine whether a fitness training program can help prevent glaucoma, the researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a large study that has tracked the health and nutritional status of adults in the United States since the 1960s.
• They defined moderate to vigorous activity in terms of walking speed and the number of steps taken per minute as measured by a pedometer.
• Taking 7,000 steps a day, every day of the week is considered equivalent to 30 minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at least 5 days a week.
• The study discovered that for each 10-unit increase in walking speed and number of steps taken per minute, glaucoma risk decreased by 6 percent.
• For each 10-minute increase in moderate-to-vigorous activity per week, glaucoma risk decreased 25 percent.
• In comparing the study participants who were most physically active and those who were least active, the researcher found a 73 percent lower risk of developing glaucoma.
According to study author Victoria L. Tseng, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, “Our research suggests that it is not only the act of exercising that may be associated with decreased glaucoma risk, but that people who exercise with higher speed and more steps of walking or running may even further decrease their glaucoma risk compared to people who exercise at lower speeds with less steps.”
Other studies have demonstrated that blood flow and pressure inside the eye may change with exercise, which may affect glaucoma risk. But, more research is needed to confirm these findings.
Click here to read the full report about a fitness training program preventing eye disease.