Why exercise prevents the brain from shrinking

  • William Lopez Lluc
  • The Conversation*

image source, Getty Images

“Healthy men in a healthy body”. We often use this quote to claim the beneficial effect of physical activity on mental abilities. Actually, the phrase appeared in Satire X written by the Roman comedian Juvenal back in the second century and was longer: it indicated that one had to pray to have a healthy spirit in a healthy body (“orandum est ut sit mens sana in healthy body”).

But is it true that keeping the body healthy, balanced and exercised helps 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 the functionality of the cells decreases and that is accompanied by a loss of tissue. It also occurs in the brain, with the consequent neurodegeneration or loss of neurons.

Whether in pathologies such as Alzheimer’s disease or in the 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 (neuronal bodies) and white (nerve conduction) tissue, increased volume of the ventricles (holes inside the brain where the cerebrospinal fluid is) and decrease in neurons in different areas, especially in the hippocampus.