The Surprising Link Between Blood Circulation and Brain Performance
Do you frequently misplace your keys? Do you forget the reason you entered the room? Do you have trouble remembering your thoughts mid-sentence? If you checked any of these boxes and are living a sedentary lifestyle, one essential strategy could help you boost your memory and overall brain performance.
What is the key to improving brain performance? More movement.
Your brain receives more blood when you exercise regularly and aerobically, notably the memory-related hippocampus. According to a 2017 study of 51 healthy men and women between 18 and 35, individuals with the highest levels of exercise had firmer and more elastic hippocampi and performed better on memory tests.
Brain Function and Blood Flow
Like the rest of your organs and nerve cells in your body, your brain depends on healthy oxygen-rich blood flow. Every cell in your body receives nutrition, including oxygen, and pollutants are flushed away. Although it only makes up 2% of your body weight and weighs about 3 pounds, your brain consumes 20% of your oxygen and blood flow.
The long-held misconception that our brain cells age quickly is debunked by an exciting new study in human brain mapping, which reveals that the blood arteries that supply our neurons age more swiftly than nerve cells. Thus, you must safeguard your blood vessels to maintain a healthy brain and mental health for as long as possible.
In addition to memory loss and Alzheimer's disease, maintaining healthy blood vessels may help you avoid several mental health conditions and cardiovascular disease like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and erectile dysfunction, among others. Also, you'll have much more energy and are less likely to gain weight.
Low Blood Flow Ages Brain Faster
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According to a recent study, people with ineffective heart pumps may get dementia sooner because they are more likely to experience brain volume loss.
Researchers evaluated brain and cardiac MRI data from 1,504 Framingham Offspring Cohort participants without a history of neurologic illness.
The participants—all between the ages of 34 and 84, with half of them women—were split into three groups according to how well their hearts could pump blood (called the "cardiac index"). According to observational studies and experts, participants with the least blood flow from their hearts aged their brains by about two years faster than those with the strongest hearts.
Those who scored in the middle of the cardiac evaluation spectrum, with a low but still average cardiac index, had smaller brain sizes than those whose hearts were deemed to be in the best possible health.
The Influence of Alzheimer's Disease on Brain Blood Flow Brain Health
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A 20–30% decrease in cerebral blood flow is linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease. The most frequent cause of dementia in older people is Alzheimer's disease (AD), which is characterized by brain atrophy and a progressive decline in cognitive function that is associated with the loss of synapses and death of neuronal cells, particularly in areas of the brain that control learning and memory.
Recent research has revealed that substantial vascular factors play a role in the development and severity of AD and other types of dementia.
Patients with AD and other neurodegenerative illnesses have been shown to have decreased cerebral blood flow (CBF), ranging from 10 to 28%. Before considerable neurological impairment or the deposition of massive amyloid plaques, these CBF deficits can be identified early in the disease.
The severity of various cognitive symptoms correlates with the amount of blood flow loss, indicating that poor CBF may directly cause cognitive impairment in neurodegenerative illness.
Patients with AD and mild cognitive impairment performed worse on a general cognitive function test when their thalamus and caudate CBF levels were lower (MCI).
Increased CBF was linked to enhanced memory function in MCI patients, whereas lower CBF was linked to worse visuospatial perception and overall cognitive impairment.
In older people without neurodegenerative illness, reduced hippocampal blood flow was also linked to worse spatial memory. Eventually, it was discovered that decreased CBF predicted later cognitive decline in healthy individuals.
Conditions Affecting Cerebral Blood Flow
Your brain suffers from anything that harms your blood vessels or reduces blood flow. According to brain SPECT imaging studies, decreased blood flow is a factor in various behavioral and mental conditions.
The blood flow and activity of the brain are measured by a brain imaging procedure called SPECT. SPECT scans showing decreased blood flow have been observed in neurological diseases like:
Alzheimer's disease and memory loss
harm to the brain from trauma
The most reliable indicator of Alzheimer's disease is based on brain imaging, according to a study published in Nature.com.
What Research Says
According to Canadian researchers from the University of Calgary, older persons who began and maintained an aerobic exercise regimen for six months saw increased cerebral blood flow (CBF) velocity, cerebrovascular control, and cognition.
Improvements in executive function and increased verbal fluency were linked to improved brain blood flow brought on by exercise.
These results were reported in 2020 in the academic journal Neurology by Guadagni and colleagues.
Recently published cutting-edge studies (Thomas et al., 2020) highlight the positive effects of aerobic exercise and cerebral blood flow (CBF) on cognitive function.
The most recent research on the positive effects of cardiovascular exercise on the brain was published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. Binu Thomas and colleagues conducted this research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
This one-year study showed that older persons at increased risk for vascular dementia could dramatically enhance their neurocognitive abilities by sticking to an aerobic exercise regimen for 12 months.
Subjects in the "aerobic exercise" group, who exhibited minor indicators of cognitive impairment before beginning aerobic exercise training, had an average age of 66.4 years and showed improvements in memory scores of 47% compared to a "gentle stretching only" control group.
What sort of regular physical activity did they partake in? Participating in supervised AE sessions of 25-30 minutes three times per week was the starting point for the study's subjects. Their weekly "dosage" (frequency/duration) of aerobic exercise increased steadily as their cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) improved throughout the 12-month research.
The optimal dose of AE related to enhanced cerebrovascular control and cognitive skills in a six-month trial of 206 older individuals with an average age of 66 at the University of Calgary looked to be roughly 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) four times per week.
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Even though the neuroprotective advantages of aerobic exercise have recently gained widespread recognition, it has been challenging to pinpoint the precise pathways by which physical activity furthers brain health, enhances cognition, and counteracts cognitive decline.
There is growing evidence that the beneficial effects of aerobic exercise on the brain and cognitive health can be attributed, in part, to the increased blood flow to the brain induced by these exercises.
Cortical blood flow (CBF) increases to the anterior cingulate cortex. The adjacent prefrontal cortex was associated with memory gains in persons with mild cognitive impairment in one-year research by Thomas et al. The scientists suggest that a shift in blood flow to AD-vulnerable brain areas may explain the restorative effects of aerobic exercise in this condition.
They assessed cranial scans depicting changes in cerebral blood flow following one year of aerobic exercise training in a population of all older adults and persons at high risk for developing Alzheimer's disease.
The frontal regions, including the hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex, and others, indicated a significant boost in blood flow. On the other hand, images obtained from a group of vulnerable older persons who merely stretched for one year displayed no change or a decrease in blood flow.
"We've demonstrated that even when your memory begins to deteriorate, you may still take action by including aerobic exercise in your daily routine. One day, a treatment or method may target blood flow to specific brain areas without causing harm. "In a press statement dated May 20th, Binu Thomas, a neuroimaging researcher at UT Southwestern and the study's first author, discussed the findings.
Best Exercises for Brain Health and Function
Here are just a few of the numerous ways that exercise improves brain function and safeguards memory:
As reported in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and other publications, exercise aids in growing the hippocampus, which is the Holy Grail of any memory-improving treatment.
It prevents the hippocampus from shrinking due to stress-related chemicals like cortisol. According to research on the hippocampus, even leisurely walking has been proven to enhance hippocampus size in women.
Below are three exercises you can start today.
1. Strength Training
According to a 2020 research in the journal NeuroImage: Older persons who engage in strength training for six months are less likely to experience hippocampal atrophy.
Another study evaluated the benefits of balance and tone training against weight training on cognitive measures over 12 months in women aged 65 to 75 and found that resistance training produced the greatest improvements. This research appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
2. Tai Chi
Research published in 2018 in the journal Frontiers in Aging Brain found that older persons who exercised tai chi for 12 weeks improved their capacity to multitask compared to those who did not.
The prefrontal cortex, where executive function and higher-order reasoning occur, was also more active in this group. Tai chi has been shown to benefit older persons with no signs of substantial cognitive impairment in studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Individuals with mild cognitive impairment caused by dementia also observed improved cognitive abilities.
According to a UCLA study from 2016 that was released in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, participants 55 and older in a 12-week campaign that included an hour of meditative yoga once a week and 12 minutes of at-home meditation saw substantial progress in their verbal memory (the capacity to recall lists of words) and visual-spatial memory, the ability to locate and remember places.
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Simply by moving forward with each step, you will be increasing your cognitive capacity through improved blood flow.
A minor study discovered that the pressure waves created by impacts with the ground send pressure waves in the opposite direction when walking helps blood flow to the brain.
Researchers at New Mexico Highlands University led by Ernest Greene and his colleagues concluded that "new findings now clearly imply that cerebral blood flow is quite dynamic."
According to the study, running, walking, and other exercise-related activities may enhance cognitive function and general well-being.
It was initially believed that the blood supply to the brain was an automatic process unaffected by physical activity or variations in blood pressure.
Yet, this study revealed that the impact of the foot on the ground during running and walking produces waves traveling in the opposite direction through the arteries, which helps to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the brain.
The authors hypothesized that these waves correspond to the runner's heart rate and stride.
In the current study, researchers looked at the consequences of walking, which has a much lower risk of foot impact than running.
Twelve healthy young people's cerebral blood flow was determined using ultrasound to quantify carotid-artery diameter and blood velocity waves while walking at a constant speed.
At rest, the individuals were also evaluated.
Walking significantly increases blood flow to the brain, according to the study. Although not as significant as when running, the increase in blood flow is more noticeable than when riding, which doesn't entail any foot impact, according to the study's authors.
Astonishingly, it took us this long to finally measure the hydraulic effects that impact the blood flow to the brain.
There exists an optimal rhythm between cerebral blood flow and walking. According to Greene, quoted in a press release from the American Physiological Society, average human heart rates (about 120 beats per minute) are compatible with the impact forces experienced by the feet during fast walking.
The study results were going to be disclosed in Chicago at the society's annual meeting. Until they appear in a reputable medical journal, the findings presented at conferences are often only considered preliminary.
Routines Most Suitable For Brain Function
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Below, you'll find several useful tips:
Incorporating nootropic supplements that enhance brain health and function by boosting memory into your daily routine.
Sip on more water! Daily consumption of no less than five glasses of water can minimize the chance of developing hypertension.
Increase your green tea intake and take it easy on the salt.
Daily omega-3 EPA/DHA fatty acids, magnesium, and vitamin D supplements, along with a high-quality multivitamin/mineral. Also, extracts of Ginkgo biloba boost memory.
Eat a daily serving of dark chocolate, preferably one ounce of cocoa flavanols.
Include more beets, green leafy vegetables, beetroots, beet powder, and cayenne pepper into your diet.
Increase your magnesium-rich foods, including seeds, almonds, and avocados.
Increase your consumption of foods high in potassium, such as sweet potatoes and spinach.
Avoid sugary drinks, fruit juices, and alcohol as much as possible (diet sodas included)
You should aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night, and if you notice symptoms of sleep apnea, you should consult a medical professional immediately.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a simple, painless, non-invasive, and effective therapeutic option. The properties of oxygen are used in this treatment to boost the body's innate capacity to repair itself. Comparing pre-treatment and post-treatment SPECT images of those who have had HBOT reveals a considerable improvement in blood flow.
We are just beginning to investigate the best mix of tactics to aid in preventing or delaying Alzheimer's disease symptoms. The relationship between the brain and old age is still poorly understood. Plus, the blood circulation in the brain is a puzzle piece, and we must keep putting it together bit by piece.
Yet, there is enough evidence to indicate that beginning a fitness program can have long-term advantages for the health of the brain aging well. In addition to engaging in physical activity, various other methods can be utilized to enhance blood flow.
These methods include receiving medical treatment for conditions related to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and vascular issues, as well as refraining from engaging in activities such as smoking and consuming caffeine, which is known to restrict blood flow to the brain.