Exercise benefits the brain but improving its blood vessels may take longer

AMES, Iowa – People with less consistent brain blood flow patterns may be at greater risk of dementia and cerebrovascular disease. To explore whether regular aerobic exercise can help, researchers at Iowa State University conducted a pilot study, the results of which were recently published.

“The big take-away is that exercise is good for the arteries and brain, but its effects are complex and takes time to accumulate benefits,” said Wes Lefferts, lead author and an assistant professor of kinesiology.

Lefferts studies large artery stiffness and brain blood flow in middle-aged adults and how these affect heart and brain health later in life.

He said participants in the pilot study’s exercise group showed improvements in cognitive function and VO2 peak — a measure of aerobic fitness and how much oxygen the body can use during exercise. But to the researchers’ surprise, inconsistent brain blood flow increased among participants in the exercise group. Although not statistically significant, Lefferts said this finding was in line with other recent studies.

“The brain’s vasculature may take longer to adapt to exercise training than the heart and central vasculature, like the aorta,” said Lefferts, adding that other studies with year-long exercise training have found improvements in continuous blood flow to the brain.

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