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Published on: April 8, 2015
by Madlen Davies for Daily Mail:
It’s well known that exercise can make your muscles bigger.
Now, a study has found it may make your brain larger, too.
Physical activity can increase grey matter in the brain, increasing the size of areas that contribute to balance and coordination.
The changes in the brain may have health implications in the long-term, such as reducing the risk of falling, said the study’s author, Dr Urho Kujala, of the University of Jyvaskyla.
It could also reduce the risk of being immobile in older age, he added.
Dr Kujala said physical activity has already been linked to a number of health benefits, such as lower levels of body fat, reduced heart disease risk factors, better memory and thinking, and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
But he and his team wanted to understand how exercise affects the brain.
They recruited 10 pairs of identical twins, who were all men aged 32 to 36 years.
Focusing on twins, who have the same DNA, would allow researchers to see how their environment affects their bodies.
In each pair of twins, one brother had exercised more over the past three years than the other, though they reported they carried out similar levels of exercise earlier in their lives.
Dr Kujala said: ‘On average, the more active members of twin pairs were jogging three hours more per week compared to their inactive co-twins.’
The twins had MRI scans of their brains so researchers could see whether physical activity had any impact on the size of their brains, and specific regions.
Exercise didn’t seem to affect the size of the brain as a whole, Dr Kujala said.
But there was a connection between more activity and more brain volume in areas related to movement, he added.
The twins who exercised more did a better job of controlling their blood sugar, which reduces the risk of diabetes, a finding which is already well-known.
The study was published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
It comes after US researchers found regular exercise can also make you smarter.
University of South Carolina experts found regular treadmill sessions create more mitochondria – structures in the cells that produce the body’s energy – in the brain.
This energy boost helped the brain to work faster and more efficiently, effectively keeping it younger, researchers said.
In the short term this could reduce mental fatigue and sharpen your thinking in between gym sessions.
And building up a large reservoir of mitochondria in the brain could also create a ‘buffer’ against age-related brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
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