Does exercise affect the brain’s aging process?

Most people know that regular exercise can keep a body looking and feeling young.

Most people know that regular exercise can keep a body looking and feeling young. What about the brain? Researchers were recently awarded a two-year grant to further examine the role physical activity plays on the brain.

What about the brain?

“There has been a wealth of evidence from past studies that physical activity has beneficial effects on neurocognitive functions, such as memory and regulatory control,” says Mark Peterson, Ph.D., M.S., FACSM, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Michigan Medicine. “Essentially, those studies show that the physical activity alters the brain’s aging trajectories to preserve cognitive health.”

“We’re hoping this study fills that knowledge gap and can validate and extend the previous claims.”

Peterson and colleagues were recently awarded a two-year grant from the University of Michigan’s Exercise & Sports Science Initiative to further examine the role physical activity plays in the brain. The grant is one of four recently awarded by the U-M initiative to study physical activity.

A shortage of comprehensive analyses propelled the new effort.

“Those previous studies did not examine the effects in a large cohort,” Peterson says. “We’re hoping this study fills that knowledge gap and can validate and extend the previous claims.”

“It gathers extensive questionnaires and physical and cognitive measures from 500,000 participants.”

Peterson and his U-M colleagues in psychiatry, Chandra Sripada, M.D., Ph.D., and computer science, Jenna Wiens, Ph.D., will obtain and study the cohort and data from the United Kingdom Biobank.

“The U.K. Biobank is the world’s largest prospective epidemiological study,” Peterson says. “It gathers extensive questionnaires and physical and cognitive measures from 500,000 participants.”

“We’ll be incorporating deep-learning techniques to predict brain age from raw neuroimaging, and will examine the independent effects of objectively measured physical activity on brain age and cognitive function in the cohort,” he adds.

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