As you exercise, your body changes. As you get fitter, you begin to lose weight, breathing becomes easier, and you build muscle throughout your body. But what is your brain doing during all of this?
Two separate studies, both from the University of Illinois, found your brain is doing more than just telling you to sit down and relax. Researchers at the Beckman Institute had kids and older adults exercise and examined the effects that doing so had on the brain’s white matter. Looking at white matter (instead of gray) was important in this case because white matter carries nerve signals though the brain, and the more compact the white matter is, the faster those signals travel.
Previous research has shown a correlation between aerobic exercise in children aged 9-10 and the size of their brain’s gray matter (the part of the brain that deals with memory and learning). This new research shows the more kids exercise, the denser the white matter becomes. In essence, our brains get faster and stronger as we do.
Researchers also studied adults aged 60-78 during a short study and found a similar correlation between daily exercise and tighter white matter in the brain. The more participants exercised, the less likely their brains were to develop lesions (changes in white matter), which is pretty impressive considering that approximately 95% of those 65 and older begin to show these lesions. A separate study at the University of Montreal reflects these findings and believes exercise helps to slow down cognitive aging.
However, there is a catch. The study revealed that even if you do exercise regularly but still lead a sedentary lifestyle, you may still be prone to white matter deterioration. Just one more reason to get up and move it throughout the day.