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New study shows major link between exercise and brain health

Posted at 7:29 AM, Jan 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-24 08:29:04-05

A recent study published in the medical journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings shows a link between cardio respiratory fitness and your ability to stay mentally sharp.

The study, conducted by the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, kept tabs on more than 2,000 adults in phases from 1997 to 2012. Researchers monitored cardio respiratory fitness, using an exercise bike, by measuring peak oxygen uptake.

The findings showed participants who exercised more, and showed higher peak oxygen uptake, also showed increased gray matter volume in the brain.

Dr. Ronald Petersen, a neurologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said gray matter is "the part of the brain where the cell bodies, the neurons, actually live. They are the functioning part of the brain."

"It's really the part of the brain that operates virtually everything, and when we're talking about cognition, it's the part of the brain involved with memory, with thinking, with problem solving," Petersen said. "But the gray matter is also involved in motor functions, so how our arms and legs work, and all our brain functions."

He said those abilities deteriorate over time as the gray matter shrinks.

"When we say, 'gray matter shrinkage,' we usually mean we're losing some of these nerve cells in the brain, by aging or disease" Petersen added. "So if we have less shrinkage, then presumably we're preserving some of those nerve cells."
Petersen said the recent study suggests exercise won't prevent the shrinkage of gray matter, but it can certainly slow down its deterioration.

"It's not unlike what we do with heart disease," Petersen said. "Does exercise prevent a heart attack? Or prevent failure down the road? Maybe not. But if you're going to have a heart attack at 72-years old, and you can push that back to 76 or 78, that's a big deal."

At the YMCA in Downtown Milwaukee, personal trainer Jamel Mosley has noticed some of those effects in the seniors enrolled in his twice-a-week fitness class.

"They've been feeling more charged up throughout the day, more able to take care of their every day tasks," Mosley said.

79-year old Don Jackson credits the workouts for keeping him feeling young.

"I work out kind of hard every day," Jackson said.

"I'm always competing with the young ladies in the class," he joked.

He said the classes with Mosley help prevent slips and falls, by improving balance. But they've also kept Jackson feeling mentally sharp.

"It keeps your mind fit," Jackson said.

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