By Black Health Matters

Researchers are investigating whether physical activity has beneficial effects on age-related declines in cognitive function.

Most people know that regular exercise can keep the body looking and feeling young. 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,” said Mark Peterson, 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.”

There is a wealth of evidence that in middle-aged and older individuals, physical activity has beneficial effects on neurocognitive functions (working memory, declarative memory, attention, etc.).(Photo via Black Health Matters)

Peterson and colleagues were recently awarded a two-year grant from the University of Michigan’s Exercise & Sport Science Initiative to further examine the role physical activity plays on 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 said. “We’re hoping this study fills that knowledge gap and can validate and extend the previous claims.”

Peterson and his U-M colleagues in psychiatry, Chandra Sripada, M.D., and computer science, Jenna Wiens, 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 said. “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 added. Peterson, also a member of the U-M Global Research Education and Collaboration in Health and Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, spoke more about the study in an interview.