Cardio Prevents Brain Atrophy – Studies

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Upon reaching middle age (30 years), the brain gradually begins to shrink. These changes are barely noticeable at first, but later on, along with how we get older, they gradually accelerate. If a person lives longer than average life expectancy, then the results of age-related degradation (in particular, dementia) become more and more inevitable. Psychologists from the University of Pittsburgh have found that it is possible to reverse the decline in activity and brain reduction by doing aerobic exercise (like cardio), for example, running for at least forty minutes for 3 sessions per week.

The relationship of cardio and aging with processes in the hippocampus

Our brain has a very complex structure, and one of the most important functional parts of it is the hippocampus. Its functions are associated with memory and orientation in space, so there is an inextricable link between a good memory and the size and activity of the hippocampus. And after 60 years, this body begins to decrease markedly, and its reduction is about 1-2 percent per year.

This inspires concern – and this is really true – however, neurologists express the opinion that this is a consequence of aging, which means it is inevitable. And yet, there is reason to believe that physical activity can slow down, stop, and possibly even reverse this process.

When the researchers asked elderly subjects to run (three cardio workouts per week), within an hour with an intensity of 70% of their typical heart rate (maximum heart rate), it was found that their brain volume increased after 6 months.

Other studies also confirm that cardio exercise contributes to better brain function in healthy older adults.

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Cardiac stress and hippocampus changes

Researchers conducted an experiment on 120 healthy men and women with an average age of 66 years. Half of the subjects performed stretching exercises three times a week for a year; the other half had cardio for 40 minutes three times a week at 60-75 percent VO2max. It is at a pace in which it becomes impossible to have a conversation.

The volume of the hippocampus of the subjects performing stretching exercises decreased during the experiment. The opposite happened in the subjects who were running: the volume of the hippocampus in these subjects increased by two percent.

Researchers measured the maximum oxygen uptake of the subjects in order to evaluate their physical fitness and found that the healthier the subjects became, the more their hippocampus grew.

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brain atrophy
Conclusion: cardio training makes the hippocampus grow

Researchers also found out how training makes the hippocampus grow. Running boosted the production of cerebral neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

BDNF has approximately the same effect on the brain as anabolic steroids have on muscle tissue. Finally, the researchers forced their subjects to do memory tests.

The more the hippocampus grew, the better the memory performance. If BDNF is indeed a key factor in the positive effects of exercise on the brain, beta-alanine supplementation can enhance this effect. In animal experiments, beta-alanine supplementation stimulated the synthesis of the neurotrophic factor BDNF in the hippocampus.

Additionally, see the pros and cons of empty stomach cardio.

What is more, we’ve prepared an answer on what cardio burns fat more effectively.