Cardio Exercise Can Improve Brain Function, New Mayo Clinic Study Says

Brain function study
(Photo by metamorworks / Getty Images.) MRI tests revealed positive associations between study subjects' cardiorespiratory function and their brain's gray matter. Gray matter can influence various functions such as speech, memory, self-control and decision making.

The mental benefits of exercise are well-documented, but new research published by the Mayo Clinic suggests increased cardiorespiratory function can measurably improve cognitive functions and help extend and enrich lifespan.

The January 2020 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings features findings from a longitudinal study that assessed the health of 2,103 German adults from 1997 to 2012. Researchers at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases observed changes in their subjects' cardiorespiratory function relative to physical exercise. 

During the study, the researchers determined that a negative change in cardiorespiratory function was a risk factor for incident dementia and dementia mortality. Subjects who improved their cardiorespiratory function over time gained an average of 2.2 dementia-free years to their lifespan as well as 2.7 total lifespan years.

Furthermore, MRI tests revealed positive associations between subjects' cardiorespiratory function and their brain's gray matter and total brain volume. Gray matter can influence various functions such as speech, memory, self-control and decision making.

"This [study] provides indirect evidence that aerobic exercise can have a positive impact on cognitive function in addition to physical conditioning," Mayo Clinic neurologist Dr. Ronald Petersen said in a media release that accompanied the new journal issue. "Another important feature of the study is that these results may apply to older adults as well. There is good evidence for the value of exercise in midlife, but it is encouraging that there can be positive effects on the brain in later life as well."

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