Here’s What 10 Days Without Exercise Can Do to Your Brain
Not everyone is a master athlete who trains year-after-year for marathons and competitions. Nonetheless, you probably try and stick with a regular exercise routine to maintain a healthy weight and slash your risk of disease.
But what happens when you exercise on a regular basis, then stop for awhile?
A team of researchers asked this same question. In particular, they were curious about the impact it would have on our brains.
With this in mind, the researchers recruited a group of physically fit adults between the ages of 50 and 80 into the study.
These individuals were all considered “master athletes.” They had at least 15 years of history participating in exercise, and recently competed in an endurance event. On average, they ran 36 miles each week and had aerobic fitness well above average for their age.
The researchers measured brain blood flow among the participants following their regular training routine, and again after 10 days of no exercise.
What they learned is that less than two weeks without exercise significantly decreased cerebral blood flow to eight regions of the brain. This included areas of the left and right hippocampus — part of the neural network that deteriorates in Alzheimer’s patients.
A Lack of Exercise Has Severe Brain Health Consequences
“We know that the hippocampus plays an important role in learning and memory and is one of the first brain regions to shrink in people with Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. J. Carson Smith, lead author of the study. “We [also] know that if you are less physically active, you are more likely to have cognitive problems and dementia as you age.” (And on the flip side, exercising just four times per week can help reverse early signs of dementia.)
While the study didn’t find any loss of cognitive abilities after stopping exercising, the message is pretty clear.
“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,” notes Smith.
And just how does exercise help boost your brain health? Check out our article Doing This Can Take 10 Years Off the Age of Your Brain.
Use it or Lose it: UMD SPH Study Shows that Stopping Exercise Decreases Brain Blood Flow. News Release. University of Maryland. Aug 2016.