In a recent study by the Radiological Society of North America, researchers have found that exercise over a long period of time is actually able to increase brain volume. Using a new MRI technique, the study demonstrated that participants with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), who exercised four times a week over a period of six months, actually saw growth in brain size in specific areas of the brain.
And even more interesting, those who consistently participated in aerobic exercise--rather than just stretching--actually demonstrated more growth than those who simply stretched.
Laura Baker, the study's primary investigator at Wake Forest University, said, "Even over a short period of time, we saw aerobic exercise lead to a remarkable change in the brain."
35 adults previously diagnosed with MCI were split into two groups for the study: one control group of 19 who simply stretched with the same frequency, and another group of 16 who performed aerobic exercise. MRI images were taken of participants before and after the study for comparison; conventional and biomechanical metrics were employed in order to adequately determine change in brain size and shape.
Dr. Jeongchul Kim, co-investigator on the study, shared that, compared to the stretching group, "the aerobic activity group had greater preservation of total brain volume, increased local gray matter volume, and increased directional stretch of brain tissue."
In general, the study helped conclude that any kind of exercise could ultimately be beneficial in improving brain function, no matter how low-impact. Measured directional changes in the MRI could also provide a marker for miniscule changes that occur in specific regions before actual volumetric changes are able to be seen on MRI.
Participants were also tested on overall cognitive performance, and the effect of exercise on cognitive function. Those who performed aerobic exercise for the six months reportedly demonstrated markedly significant improvement in cognition after the study, while those in the stretching group showed no change.
So, no matter how little or how much we're able to exercise in our daily life, it might be worthwhile to just how much consistent movement can affect our brain function.