Specific exercises linked to brain health and cognitive performance

New research from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases has linked specific exercises with brain health and cognitive performance. Specifically, these types of activities may help protect the brain's gray matter and preserve total brain volume, slowing down the rate of cognitive decline over one's lifespan and, potentially, offering a protective effect against age-related dementia.

Types of activities called cardiorespiratory exercise may be part of the puzzle that'll help humans protect their brain health as they age, according to a study recently published by the Mayo Clinic. In it, researchers explained that activities that increase one's heart rate — things like going for a brisk walk or riding a bicycle — have been linked to increased gray matter volume.

This increased volume was itself linked with 'peak oxygen intake,' meaning one likely can't just take a casual walk and expect to reap brain health benefits. The findings were based on two different cohort studies conducted in Germany involving a total of more than 2,000 adults.

Researchers measured the participants' cardiorespiratory fitness by measuring their peak oxygen uptake, among other things, plus the studies involved brain data acquired using MRIs. The results indicate that people who engage in these types of exercises may benefit from better brain health and a slower rate of gray matter decline.

The study notes that the greater gray matter volume was found in the parts of the brain that are related to the cognitive changes experienced as one grows older — some of them are even related to changes observed in cases of Alzheimer's disease. That doesn't mean that working up a sweat will protect someone from developing this type of dementia, but it does shed light on a lifestyle factor that may have a protective effect.