Exercise is good for your brain

We all know the benefits of physical exercise, such as sustaining and improving muscle tone, increasing circulation, keeping tissues well oxygenated and a myriad of positive long-term effects. But do we know the impact of exercise on the brain?

A recent study, published in Neurology, found that exercise has a very distinct neurological benefit which has, up until now, gone unnoticed.

White Matter Hyperintensities (WMH) are tiny areas of damage to the brain, which are age-related and frequently found in the brains of middle-aged and older people. They have commonly been associated with impaired motor function, such as difficulty walking.

In the current study, 167 elderly participants were asked to wear movement monitors to track their physical activity over the course of up to 11 days. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans were used to assess the volume of WMH in their brains.

The findings showed that those who were more physically active were less affected by WMH damage than those who were less active. In other words, physical exercise appeared to be protecting participants against the standard effects of age-related neural damage.

Lead author Dr Debra Fleischman commenting on the results said:

“These findings may indicate that exercise can make neural networks more resilient. Physical activity may create a ‘reserve’ that protects motor abilities against the effects of age-related brain damage.”

That’s good news for those of us who regularly take that 20 mile jog or cycle there and back from London to Hastings. But for those of us who are more inclined to inglorious couch-potatodom, there is help at hand.

At 96 Harley Psychotherapy, we are not only home to some of the world’s leading psychotherapists and other psychological practitioners, but also have a whole floor dedicated almost exclusively to physical therapy, including a gym.

John Rutherford and Giles Webster, a physiotherapist and exercise physiologist respectively, specialise in helping those who are physically compromised because of.back pain, injury, ME or other conditions, restore pain-free functional mobility. They also work with those who have simply been chronically inactive and wish to improve their levels of fitness, strength and flexibility.

If this latest piece of research is anything to go by, the more we exercise, the lower our risk of succumbing to age-related neurological damage connected to poor mobility. Working at exercising optimally and regularly is one of the most important ways we can insure ourselves against future disability.

Written by Jacqui Hogan