Exercise increases brain size, a new study finds.
In some of the best evidence to date, exercise was shown to increase the size of the hippocampus, a brain structure critical for memory and other functions.
So far, studies have mostly shown the connection between exercise and brain size in rodents.
Researchers followed people aged 24 to 76 for up to two years in a range of separate studies.
They looked at the effects of walking, cycling, treadmill running and general aerobic exercise.
Most people did around 2-5 sessions per week.
The results showed that left hippocampul volume was increased in people who exercised.
Dr Joseph Firth, the study’s first author, said:
“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.
Our data showed that, rather than actually increasing the size of the hippocampus per se, the main ‘brain benefits’ are due to aerobic exercise slowing down the deterioration in brain size.
In other words, exercise can be seen as a maintenance program for the brain.”
The study reviewed 14 separate clinical trials, including brain scans from 737 people.
This is some of the most definitive evidence yet published of the beneficial effects of exercise on brain health.
Normally people’s brains shrink by about 5% every decade after the age of 40.
Exercise is one of the few interventions proven to slow this process down.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal NeuroImage (Firth et al., 2018).