What happens to your brain if you DON'T exercise?

The VITL Nutrition Team / 17 May 2018

We all know the importance of regular exercise, but do we really know the extent to which low fitness and a sedentary lifestyle can seriously influence our brain health?


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Recent research has revealed a healthy lifestyle protects more than just the heart. These new findings also help to make it clearer as to how we can implement strategies into our lifestyle to make sure we live longer and happier, both mentally and physically. 

Much research has indicated the negative health impacts of a sedentary lifestyle, but recently more research has highlighted a much darker association with Alzheimer’s disease. Research at UT Southwestern’s O’Donnell Brain Institute suggests that lower fitness levels are associated with the faster deterioration of vital nerve fibres in the brain. This deterioration results in cognitive decline, including memory issues that we see in dementia patients. 

Other supporting research has found sedentary behaviour to be a significant predictor of thinning of the medial temporal lobe (a brain region associated with the formation of new memories) which is thought to be a precursor to cognitive decline in middle-aged and older adults. All is not lost though! Scientists have collated more evidence that exercise improves brain health and could be a lifesaving step in the prevention of Alzheimer’s. So, it’s time to swap the couch with the treadmill, dig out your trainers and get out there!

Here’s how you can make some changes to your diet and lifestyle to keep your brain healthy!

  • Regular physical exercise 

This directly benefits the brain cells through increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain. Staying active may not only help us to maintain a healthy body but also have associated benefits for brain health too. Alzheimer’s UK suggest each week you should try to incorporate moderate activity (30 mins 5 days a week), this could be walking the dog, housework, gardening. So easy! Or 15 mins 5 days a week of vigorous activities, such as cycling or running. 

  • Avoid bad fats

‘Heart-healthy eating’ involves avoiding dairy products, processed meats, snack pastries, fried foods, or ingredients listed on labels as “partially hydrogenated oils”. Instead, swap these with vegetables, legumes, fruits, and whole grains. Changing our diet in this way can lead to reductions in blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, which are all things that can potentially lead to the reduction of blood flow to the brain. 

  • Boost your mental activity

Mentally-stimulating social activities and keeping mentally active as we age is thought to lower the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. This kind of stimulation strengthens connections between nerve cells in the brain, and those who are more mentally active have been shown to have a reduced risk of cognitive deficits later in life. Remember our brain is a muscle, we must exercise it! 


For more tips and tricks have a read of our recent blog post ‘How to train your brain into healthier choices