Brain’s Blood Flow: Significant Decreases when Older Adults Stop Exercising

Brain’s Blood Flow: Significant Decreases when Older Adults Stop Exercising

It’s no secret that even being moderately physically active can benefit your overall health, wellness and fitness and may reduce your risk for numerous chronic and preventable diseases. But what happens if you are a fit and active older adult and decide to stop exercising? A new study shows a strong, direct link between physical fitness and cognitive health – specifically in the brain’s blood flow.

The study was performed by the University of Maryland School of Public Health and published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. Researchers set out to study how endurance exercise training improves cerebrovascular health and has positive effects on the hippocampus (important for learning and memory), while studying it’s benefits when the participant stopped exercising.

The Study

Using MRI brain scans, researchers measured the brain’s blood flow in healthy, physically fit older adults ages 50-89 years old before and after a 10-day period, where they stopped all exercise.

Lead author J. Carson Smith, associate professor of kinesiology at UMD explains that previous studies using mice and rats have shown that exercise increases the growth of new blood vessels and brain cells. Other research shows that exercise can protect the hippocampus from shrinking in older adults. “So, it is significant that people who stopped exercising for only 10 days showed a decrease in blood flow to brain regions that are important for maintaining cognitive health.”


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The study’s results showed significant reductions in resting brain flow in eight brain regions. However, researchers found no significant change in cognitive function in the participants before or after they stopped exercising. It is important to note that the study names the participants “master athletes”, described as “a unique population and should not be considered equivalent to older adults who engage in regular moderate to vigorous intensity leisure-time physical activity.”

J. Carson Smith further explains, “We know that if you are less physically active, you are more likely to have cognitive problems and dementia as you age. However, we did not find any evidence that cognitive abilities have worsened after stopping exercising for just 10 days. But the take home message is simple – if you do stop exercising for 10 days, just as you will quickly lose your cardiovascular fitness, you will also experience a decrease in blood brain flow.”

The Brain’s Blood Flow

Though the brain is only about 2% of the body’s total weight, it receives 15-20% of the body’s blood supply. Brain cells will die if the supply of blood (which carries oxygen) is stopped. The blood brings many materials that are necessary for the brain to function properly – oxygen, carbohydrates, amino acids, fats, hormones, and vitamins.[1]

Without a normal influx of blood flow, your brain can begin to get off track. Ralph Sacco, M.D., chief of neurology at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami and past president of the American Heart Association says, “When your brain doesn’t get the blood flow it needs, it can begin to malfunction. As a result, you could experience problems thinking, trouble with memory, difficulty finding your way from place to place and deterioration in cognitive function. If blood flow to the brain is abruptly blocked, you could even have a stroke.”

Click here to read Jerry Hickey, R. Ph’s “Power Memory and Brain Health” for more information on nutrients that protect your brain!

What can you do to keep your brain’s blood flow on the right track?

If you have questions or concerns about your blood flow or brain health in general, speak to your primary physician. He or she may suggest for you to test how well your memory is working or recommend you to a neuropsychologist, who uses brain puzzles and teasers to assess your cognitive function compared to others your age. Be sure you are following a healthy lifestyle – get plenty of physical exercise and follow a healthy diet. For help with how you can get your body back on track through exercise and nutrition, speak with a nutritionist or naturopathic doctor today!



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