Why exercise prevents the brain from shrinking

  • Guillaume Lopez Lluc
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image sources, Getty Images

“Healthy men in a healthy body”. This quote is often used to claim the beneficial effect of physical activity on mental abilities. In fact, the sentence appeared in Satire X written by the Roman comedian Juvenal in the second century and was longer: it indicated that one should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body (“orandum est ut sit mens sana in healthy body”).

But is it true that keeping a healthy, balanced and active body helps to maintain the mental capacities of our brain? Yes, and there is plenty of scientific evidence to prove it, especially when it comes to aging.

The brain loses volume during aging.

As we age, tissues and organs degenerate. The ability to maintain cell functionality decreases and this is accompanied by loss of tissue. It also occurs in the brain, with the resulting neurodegeneration or loss of neurons.

Whether in pathologies such as Alzheimer’s disease or in loss of functionality due to aging, different changes associated with loss of function occur in the brain. Among them, thinning of the cortical area, loss of gray (neural bodies) and white (nerve conduction) tissue, increased volume of the ventricles (holes inside the brain where the cerebrospinal fluid is located) and decrease in neurons in different areas, especially in the hippocampus.

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