Even a short break from regular physical activity can have a profound impact on your health. Your heart, lungs and blood vessels, for example, lose some of their ability to deliver needed oxygen throughout the body. Now, scientists believe 10 days without exercise may also impact your brain—especially if you’re over 50.
Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Public Health recently recruited a dozen “master athletes” from local running clubs, all of them between the ages of 50 and 80 years old, and asked them not to exercise at all for 10 days. Before and after the study, participants underwent brain scans to measure blood flow to different areas of the brain.
Following the 10-day break, researchers saw a significant drop in resting blood flow to several brain regions—in particular the hippocampus, which is involved with how we learn and remember things. Deterioration of the hippocampus is typically seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease, and this new study further demonstrates the link between exercise and brain health.
According to lead author Dr. J. Carson Smith, the take home message is simple: “If you do stop exercising for 10 days, just as you will quickly lose your cardiovascular fitness, you will also experience a decrease in blood brain flow.” Next, he and his team hope to examine the long-term consequences of exercise cessation and how it impacts brain health.