Improving Brain Health through Exercise

February 2, 2024 at 7:59 a.m.
"We found that even moderate levels of physical activity can have a positive effect on brain health"
"We found that even moderate levels of physical activity can have a positive effect on brain health"

A new study is suggesting a fascinating link between regular exercise and better brain health. Researchers looked at 10,125 Individuals with MRI brain scans and found that being physically active is related to increased size of brain areas important for memory and learning. The study revealed that those who regularly engaged in physical activities such as walking, running or sports had larger brain volumes in key areas.

This includes the gray matter, which helps with processing information, and the white matter, which connects different brain regions, as well as the hippocampus, important for memory. Exercise not only lowers the risk of dementia, but also helps in maintaining brain size, which is crucial as we age, according to the researchers.

"We found that even moderate levels of physical activity, such as taking fewer than 4,000 steps a day, can have a positive effect on brain health. This is much less than the often-suggested 10,000 steps, making it a more achievable goal for many people,” said study co-author Dr. David Merrill, who is with the Pacific Neuroscience Institute's Brain Health Center, located at Providence Saint John's Health Center, Los Angeles, California.

Study co-author Dr. Somayeh Meysami, an assistant professor of neurosciences at Saint John's Cancer Institute and the Pacific Brain Health Center said this new research links regular physical activity to larger brain volumes, suggesting neuroprotective benefits. “This large sample study furthers our understanding of lifestyle factors in brain health and dementia prevention,” said Dr Meysami.

A Lancet Study in 2020 found about a dozen modifiable risk factors that decrease risk for Alzheimer's disease, including physical activity. This work builds upon previous work by this group, linking caloric burn from leisure activities to improved brain structure.

"This study demonstrates the influence of exercise on brain health imaging and when added to other studies on the role of diet, stress reduction and social connection offer the proven benefits of drug-free modifiable factors in substantially reducing Alzheimer's disease," said George Perry, Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at 
Share this story!