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Exercise is Good for Brain Health

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.



  • Marcia
    5 years ago

    I have a strong feeling me being active most of my life has greatly helped me with my symptoms. I feel the progression I have at 41 since being diagnosed five years ago could’ve been worse. I’m now having noticeable symptoms when before it was an attack here and there. ppl should nd active their whole lives anyways. 🙂

  • Christie Germans author
    5 years ago

    So glad you stopped by to jot a few notes about your outlook on exercise. I agree that being active probably helped with symptoms. Hope you are feeling strong and feeling okay. Best, Christie

  • ThisBSMS
    5 years ago

    It helps and it doesn’t. What I mean is that if I have an attack coming on, it actually can make it worse. I had a few attacks starting up, while I was doing yoga. But yoga helped me with balance after one of my really nasty attacks. It put me back on my feet. Usually walking makes me feel better if there is something mild going on, but some days the thought of walking outside is out of some sci fi novel! So it really depends. Now I try to work out and I am about to hire a personal trainer. I love to walk more than anything though. If I can walk all day, I would. And some days I do. Again, it depends. Every day is different and I say ‘every day is a different adventure for me’.

  • Christie Germans author
    5 years ago

    I’ve heard that exercising can make it worse when an attack is coming. Just do what you can, when you can and in whatever form it looks like. Walking is great and so contemplative too, to be outside. I love your idea of getting a personal trainer – let us know how that goes! Best, Christie

  • peanut123
    5 years ago

    I began by going to physical therapy. Then, I moved onto the elliptical because while in physical therapy it was noticed that I walked with my feet too close. So, the elliptical enabled me to correct my stance while hopefully retraining my brain to a correct stance. That was last year. I began running (on a treadmill) a few weeks ago, and hope to run a 5k in the next several months. Yes, I believe exercise helps. At times I go to the gym despite extreme pain from spatiscity, and I think it helps.
    Oh, I am 50 years old and was diagnosed in 1987.

  • Christie Germans author
    5 years ago

    Awesome to hear you are training for a 5k – very impressive! Good luck and let us know how the training goes. Cheers! Christie

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