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Exercise found to boost blood supply to the brain

Posted Apr 13 2011 8:54am

In February, I wrote a blog that reported on some research, which found that regular walking had improved the structure and function of the brains of older adults. One way that exercise might enhance brain function is by stimulating the production of so-called ‘brain derived neurotropic factors’ which, among other things, facilitate communication between nerve cells.

Another potential mechanism through which exercise may boost brain function is by improving blood supply to this organ. Blood supplies nutrients and oxygen that are critical to brain function. As we age, blood supply to the brain (as well as other parts of the body) can drop off, and this could contribute to issues that are usually described as ‘cognitive decline’.

Today, I came across this story that appears to add support to the idea that exercise can indeed boost blood supply to the brain. The study reported on in the link has been presented this week at the Experimental Biology Meeting in Washington DC, USA. Women aged 60 and over were exercised for three months.

Initially, they exercised at 50-60 per cent of maximum capacity (heart rates of approximately 80-90 beats per minute) for 30 minutes, three times a week.

Eventually, the women extended these sessions to 50 minutes, and also added in twice weekly sessions of 30 minutes at 70-80 per cent maximum capacity (heart rates of about 110 – 130 beats per minute).

It’s not clear from the report if there was a ‘control’ group (a group not performing these exercises against which the results could be compared).

The exercise led to an average of 15 per cent increase in blood flow in one of the major vessels supplying blood to the brain on the right side, and an average 11 per cent increase on the left side.

This research, although unpublished at this time, does add to a growing body of evidence that supports the concept that exercise is good for the brain.

Those of you who have an interest in this may also like to read a recent post in which I highlighted the critical role of cholesterol in brain function, and the damage that might be done here by eating a diet rich in carbohydrate.

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