Typically, the size of the brain decreases approximately 5 percent every decade from age 40 onwards.
Overall the results showed that although exercise had no effect on total hippocampal volume, it did significantly increase the size of the left region of the hippocampus, with lead author Joseph Firth commenting that the study now provides some of the most definitive evidence to date on the benefits of exercise for brain health.
The research, published by Australia's National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) at Western Sydney University on Tuesday, revealed that aerobic exercise can significantly improve the health of the left region of the hippocampus. Or to put it another way, if you're looking to keep your brain big and healthy, exercise could be your silver bullet.
They were aged 24 to 76 years with an average age of 66 and either had aerobic exercise programmes or control conditions.
The participants included a mix f healthy adults, people with mild cognitive impairment such as Alzheimers and people with a clinical diagnosis of mental illness including depression and schizophrenia, according to reports.
The exercise involved included stationary cycling, walking, and running on a treadmill, two to five times a week, for durations ranging from three to 24 months. The length of interventions ranged from three to 24 months, with almost two to five sessions of exercises every week.
Aerobic exercise can improve memory function and maintain brain health as we age, a new study has found.
Previous studies in mice and rats have shown that exercise increases hippocampus size, but until now, the evidence in humans has been inconsistent.
This is all due to a chemical your brain creates when you do any type of aerobic exercise called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), Firth says. "In other words, exercise can be seen as a maintenance program for the brain".
"Firth also added that as well as helping to boost regular"'healthy" aging, the results of the new research could have implications for preventing aging-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's and dementia, although further research is needed.
Interestingly, physical exercise is one of the very few "proven" methods for maintaining brain size and functioning into older age.