New studies show that regular, moderate exercise has a beneficial effect on the brain as we age. With more than half of adults over 85 experiencing cognitive or memory issues, a little exercise may go a long way. (1)
Neuroscientist Art Kramer at the University of Illinois scanned the brains of 120 older adults over the course of a year. At the beginning of the study, half of the participants started a program of moderate aerobic exercise: mostly walking for just 45 minutes, three days a week. The other half did not engage in exercise.
After a year, MRI scans showed an increase in brain volume for the group that did exercise. (2)
Interestingly, the placebo group that did not engage in exercise lost 1.5 percent of their brain volume. The group that had greater brain volume from exercise was also found to have better memory compared to the placebo. (2)
Animal studies have shown that exercise increases new neuron production, strengthens the connections between neurons and increased blood volume to numerous areas of the brain. (3)
According to Kramer, brain exercises like Sudoku or crossword puzzles are not as conclusive compared to the research on aerobic exercise, but are still a good idea.
Nutritional Support for the Brain
There is evidence suggesting that omega-3 fatty acids – found in certain fish – and antioxidants like vitamins C and E – found in vegetables – may help nourish the brain. (4)
A recent study also revealed that vitamin B12 may protect against the actual shrinkage of the brain as we age. (5) The study measured 107 people from ages 61-87 for five years with brain scans and MRI’s.
The study found that people who had higher vitamin B12 levels were less likely to experience brain shrinkage compared with those who had lower levels of the vitamin in their blood. (5) None of the people in the study had a vitamin B12 deficiency. You do not have to be deficient in B12 to see brain shrinkage. Low B12 levels can put you at risk as well.