Exercise is Good for Brain Health

Last updated: May 2014

Exercise is good for our brains! And, if we start early, we just may be able to preserve memory and thinking skills in middle age. This is exactly what the American Academy of Neurology (ANN) reported early last month.

A new study was published in Neurology, the online medical journal of the ANN, “Running, Cardio Activities in Young Adulthood May Preserve Thinking Skills in Middle Age” by David R. Jacobs, Jr, PhD. Its premise was to study the effects of exercise on participants’ brain health as they reached middle age (click here to read the press release).

In the study, over 2700 young and healthy people in their mid-twenties were evaluated on treadmills for a year and then evaluated again twenty years later. Twenty-five years after the start of the test, cognitive tests were taken that measured all kinds of things: verbal memory, psychomotor speed and executive function. Psychomotor speed? This has to do with the relationship between body movement and thinking skills. Executive function? Being the CEO of your mind. Not really…but close! This has to do with mental processes that connect the past to the present (e.g. planning, organizing, managing time, etc.).

As you might imagine, there was a lot of intense treadmill action in the study and a lot of memory tests. At the end of the day, the study revealed that changes in memory and executive function were more significant than the effects of one year of aging. Experts are looking forward to using these results to better prevent or treat those at high risk of developing dementia. Cool, right?

So, how does one maintain good brain health? Run, swim, bike and/or sign up for a cardio class. Remind young folks of this because the key is getting into this early, like in your mid-20s or so.

Yet, you might be wondering, “this is all well and good but what about those of us living with MS? This brain health talk is great if you’re an average healthy person but what if my brain’s got a bunch of lesions? The kind of lesions that effect memory, the ability to walk, run, swim and/or enroll in cardio exercise classes?”

Excellent point.

I’m not a doctor (nor do I play one on TV) but I say exercise anyway, when you’re able and try something that works for you. It’s good for heart health and it’s good for brain health and it may help MS symptoms. According to a 1996 study by researchers of the University of Utah, there are benefits of exercise for those living with MS. Their research proved that exercise improves physical strength, cognitive function, bowel and bladder function, and results in a more positive attitude (click here for more info).

I try to cycle often yet I struggle with memory and cognition issues from time to time. I exercised regularly when I was a young adult but stopped in my early twenties, going through what I call my “I abhor exercise while I stylishly smoke cigarettes” phase. Between this, getting an MS diagnosis plus turning 40-something, I’m not sure what’s driving the occasional cognition issues. No matter. Riding my bike, preferably as fast as possible, makes me feel better. It gives me joy and it just may improve my brain health.1,2

How about you? Do you find that exercising relieves some MS symptoms? Have you noticed a more positive attitude? What are some of your favorite activities? We’d love to hear from you.

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