BrainFit or Bust
Physical exercise is good for your body, but it's also good for your brain. New studies show how a group of fit older
bone . . . Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk aroun’, Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk aroun’. . . remember that song? It’s
a basic principle. Your body systems are all connected up. So it should be no surprise that the health of your brain is
connected to the health of your body and a new study revealed just how much.
We’ve known for some time that fit people feel better, and more recently discovered that they may also think better.
Canadian researchers took this to the test by looking at how the physical fitness level 50 - 90 year old women predicted
their cognitive abilities. Their research will be published in the March 2009 edition of the journal, Neurobiology of
The research team recruited 42 healthy post-menopausal women who were free of chronic illness and medication. They then
evaluated their level of physical fitness using a standard exercise test and compared fitness levels to cerebral blood
flow (blood supply to the brain) and a battery of cognitive performance tests.
Not surprisingly, women who reported getting regular exercise were more fit than women who were sedentary. But let’s
explore for a minute what fitness actually means to these women. First, fitness significantly predicted the
cerbrovascular health of these women, which is a fancy way to say that fit women had a better blood supply to their
What does that mean? Basically, it means their brains can perform better and they proved it by doing better on all kinds
of cognitive tests, including cognitive speed, perception, verbal ability and executive function. Even if you don’t know
what all of these test measure, understand that the physically active women out-performed the sedentary women on every
cognitive test the researchers through at them.
We all know that exercise helps our heart and arteries work better. For some people, that is motivation enough. However,
only about 1-3 adults get any regular exercise so maybe we need a bigger motivator. Understanding that physical fitness
will also make your brain work better might be the driver that many people need. While nobody wants diabetes and heart
disease, people may work a little harder to stave off cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease and that’s what makes
studies like this important.
Your brain uses up to 20% of the oxygen that you breathe. How does it get from your lungs to those brain circuits that
remember where you put your keys? Answer: your blood supply and your neurovascular system. This new study shows that the
more fit you are the more efficiently you will get blood to your brain and the smarter you will be.
Studies like this may not provide us with earth shattering revelations. The results are not surprising, but they give us
evidence that how we choose to live effects how we think and feel. And evidence leads to recommendations, which lead to
policy changes, which hopefully, someday will lead to health care systems that promote and reward you to stay fit. So
next time you’re struggling with whether or not to get off the couch and go for a walk, think about your brain - while
you still can.
Brown et al. Neurobiology of Aging (2009) In Press
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Simon Evans is a brain scientist at the University of Michigan interested in lifestyle approaches to brain health and fitness. He is the author of BrainFit for Life: A User's Guide to Life-Long Brain Health and Fitness. Visit his website at http://www.brainfitforlife.com