According to a study, gray matter in the brains of older individuals is preserved with an active lifestyle, helping to reduce the burden of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The influence an active lifestyle had on the brain structure of 876 individuals with an average age of 78 years was examined. The cognition of the individuals ranged from normal to Alzheimer’s.
The lifestyle factors looked at included yard and gardening work, bicycling, recreational sports, riding an exercise bike and dancing. A method called voxel-based morphometry and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) was used to model the relationships between gray matter volume and energy output.
Voxel-based morphometry is an advanced technique which allows an MR image to be analyzed by a computer and a mathematical model to be built that helps the gray matter volume and active lifestyle relationship to be understood. A key marker of brain health is gray matter volume. A healthier brain is found with a larger gray matter volume, and a shrinking volume is found in Alzheimer’s.
A strong gray matter volume and energy output association was found in parts of the brain vital for cognitive function. Higher expenditure of energy was associated with larger gray matter volumes in the parietal, temporal and frontal lobes, which included the basal ganglia, posterior cingulate and hippocampus. There was a strong greater gray matter volume and high energy output association in individuals having mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s.
Neurons that function in cognition and higher order cognitive processes are included in gray matter. The brain areas that benefited from an active lifestyle are the areas which are very sensitive to damage and consume the most energy.
An active lifestyle’s positive influence on the brain was probably due to an improvement in vascular health, and the results clearly show that an active lifestyle can alleviate brain aging.