Physical activity is at the epicenter of healthy living: it can assist weight loss, increase energy and now it may even prevent dementia.

In a new study conducted by the Gerontology Department of the Institute of General Medicine and the Department of Sports Medicine at Goethe University Frankfurt, the effects of regular exercise on brain metabolism and memory of 60 participants aged 65 to 85 were examined in a randomized controlled trial. The SMART study (Sport and Metabolism in Older Persons, an MRT Study) assessed movement-related parameters, cardiopulmonary fitness and cognitive performance. Magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) were used to measure brain metabolism and brain structure.

In 30-minute training sessions adapted to individual performance levels, participants utilized an exercise bike three times a week over a period of 12 weeks. The participants were then examined again at the end of the program to document the effects of their physical activity on brain metabolism, cognitive performance and brain structure.

Reported in the current issue of the medical journal Translational Psychiatry, the findings of this study suggest that regular physical exercise not only enhances fitness but also has a positive impact on brain metabolism. Choline levels, which often rise as a result of the increased loss of nerve cells typical in Alzheimer’s cases, was stabilized in the training group, whereas choline levels increased in the control group. In an added bonus, participants’ also showed increased cardiac efficiency after the training period.

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