Air pollution can make exercise less beneficial to your brain

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In a new study from the University of Arizona, researchers found that people who do vigorous physical activities, like jogging or playing competitive sports, in areas with higher air pollution may show less benefit from that exercise when it comes to certain markers of brain disease.

The study looked at 8,600 people with an average age of 56 from the UK Biobank, a large biomedical database.

The markers examined in the study included white matter hyperintensities, which indicate injury to the brain’s white matter, and gray matter volume.

Larger gray matter volumes and smaller white matter hyperintensity volumes are markers of overall better brain health.

The team found people who got the greatest amounts of vigorous physical activity each week, on average, had 800 cm3 gray matter volume, compared to an average of 790 cmgray matter volume in people who did not get any vigorous exercise.

They also showed that air pollution exposures did not alter the effects of physical activity on gray matter volume.

However, researchers did find air pollution exposures altered the effects of vigorous physical activity when looking at white matter hyperintensities.

They found that vigorous physical activity reduced white matter hyperintensities in areas of low air pollution, but these benefits were not found among those in high air pollution areas.

These findings suggest that vigorous exercise may increase exposure to air pollution and prior studies have shown adverse effects of air pollution on the brain.

The team says some beneficial effects essentially disappeared for vigorous physical activity in areas with the highest levels of air pollution. That’s not to say people should avoid exercise.

Overall, the effect of air pollution on brain health was modest—roughly equivalent to half the effect of one year of aging, while the effects of vigorous activity on brain health were much larger—approximately equivalent to being three years younger.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about diet that may help prevent brain aging, and findings of common high blood pressure drug that can help repair blood vessels in brain.

For more information about cognitive health, please see recent studies about scientists find how to repair damaged brain after stroke, and results showing that fighting dementia with play: cognitive training may improve brain function.

The study is published in Neurology. One author of the study is Melissa Furlong, Ph.D.

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