Boosting brain function may be as simple as regular aerobics

Regularly participating in an aerobic activity like cycling or briskly walking on a treadmill may have a noticeable effect on your brain's executive functions, according to a new study. The research was approached with a focus on slowing the progression of — or potentially preventing — Alzheimer's disease. The study involved around two dozen people who were healthy but lived a sedentary lifestyle.

Alzheimer's disease and dementia are increasingly burdensome public health issues that are expected to explode in number within the next couple of generations as healthcare improves and people start living longer lives. These diseases are known to come with genetic and lifestyle risk factors, but no single effective solution has been found to prevent the development or slow the progression of this disease.

When it comes to lifestyle, research over past years has found certain dietary and activity habits that correlate with a lowered risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, as well as the slower progression of the conditions in people who still ultimately develop them. Fitness is one such lifestyle factor that may play a preventative role and, according to a new study published in Brain Plasticity, aerobic fitness may play an important role in brain health.

The study involved 23 adults who were described as 'cognitively normal,' but who had a genetic or familial risk for Alzheimer's disease. All of these participants were living a sedentary lifestyle at the start of the study. After testing and measuring them for things like daily activity levels and brain glucose metabolism, the participants were split into two groups.

One group of participants was given info on how to maintain an active lifestyle, but that was it. The other group, however, was tasked with engaging in a treadmill training program of moderate-intensity three times per week over the duration of 26 weeks. The researchers found that the second group of participants demonstrated improved cognitive performance on tests related to the executive functioning of the brain.

The treadmill group was also less sedentary by the end of the 26 weeks and had improved cardiorespiratory fitness levels, which the study says was related to better brain glucose metabolism in a part of the brain linked to Alzheimer's disease. The findings indicate that participating in moderate-intensity aerobic activity a few times a week may be a simple lifestyle change that'll help protect brain health against these conditions.