Physical activity and cognitive activity each increase, and in a complementary fashion, the gray matter volume of specific brain regions. Making these two occupations a habit delays the effects of aging on brain health.
Physical and intellectual activity: more gray matter
We already knew to date that physical and cognitive activity have a benefit on the plasticity of certain brain regions, but until then, we could not distinguish the benefit of each activity. This is now done in this study including 45 people aged 72 years on average, questioned about their level of physical and cognitive activity exercised daily, and having benefited from brain imaging.
Verdict: Elderly subjects who engage in regular physical or cognitive activity have increased gray matter volume, according to MRI imaging. They show less cerebral atrophy than their counterparts who do not practice such activities.
Two perfectly complementary activities for the brain
The proportional increase in the volume of gray matter to the resulting activity occurs in particular at the level of the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, two regions particularly affected by the neurotoxic mechanisms of dementia, and in particular those of Alzheimer’s disease. This increase would increase what is called the neuronal reserve. Moreover, depending on the nature of the activity performed, the imaging shows fine differences in the brain regions concerned. Activities, physical or cognitive, would therefore have a complementary interest in delaying the effects of brain aging.
Provided, however, that the protein intake is sufficient at this age to practice the physical activity in question. Indeed, another French study came to the conclusion that sufficient protein intake reduces the risk of frailty by nearly 60%, whether the protein is of animal or vegetable origin. However, it should be remembered that protein intake is often very limited in this age category and should therefore also be encouraged.
After your walk for the day, grab a good book, your brain will thank you for it.
Arenaza-Urquijo EM, et al. Distinct effects of late adulthood cognitive and physical activities on gray matter volume. Brain Imaging and Behavior, doi:10.1007/s11682-016-9617-3