An active lifestyle helps preserve gray matter in the brains of older adults and could reduce the burden of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Cyrus Raji, from the University of California/Los Angeles (UCLA; California, USA), and colleagues examined how an active lifestyle can influence brain structure in 876 adults, average age 78 years, enrolled in the Cardiovascular Health Study.

The patients’ condition ranged from normal cognition to Alzheimer’s dementia. The team drew on 20 years of clinical data on this group, including body mass index and lifestyle habits—including recreational sports, gardening and yard work, bicycling, dancing and riding an exercise cycle. After controlling for age, head size, cognitive impairment, gender, body mass index, education, study site location and white matter disease, the researchers found a strong association between energy output and volumes of gray matter (where neurons that function in cognition and higher order cognitive processes are located) in areas of the brain crucial for cognitive function. Greater caloric expenditure was related to larger gray matter volumes in the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes, including the hippocampus, posterior cingulate and basal ganglia. There was a strong association between high-energy output and greater gray matter volume in patients with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Observing that: “not one but a combination of lifestyle choices and activities benefit the brain,” the study authors report that: “The areas of the brain that benefited from an active lifestyle are the ones that consume the most energy and are very sensitive to damage.”


  1. Raji C., et al. “Energy expenditure is associated with gray matter structure in normal cognition, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s dementia” [Abstract SSA16-02]. Presentation at 2012 Annual Meeting of Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), 26 Nov. 2012.