Steps to Brain Health
In a new study on CAA, Professors John Robinson and William Van Nostrand find more support for the brain-beneficial impacts of exercise.

Some of the most hopeful news in Alzheimer’s research in recent years has been increasing evidence to suggest that exercise can be beneficial to reduce risk of neurodegenerative disease and boost long-term brain health. But questions remain. How much exercise—at what level of intensity, over what period of time—is needed to see the benefits?

Professors John Robinson and Bill Van Nostrand.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation, Ryan Institute faculty John Robinson and William Van Nostrand and colleagues found that exercise may help reduce harmful brain inflammation in cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA), a common disease of aging that often occurs with Alzheimer’s disease and is characterized by bleeding in the brain.

Their research turned up some key findings. While their data showed that exercise did not significantly reduce the presence of toxic amyloid deposits on the blood vessels in the mouse model of CAA, they did observe other benefits, including improved motor function, sociability, and reduced anxiety-like behavior. Most of all, Robinson and Van Nostrand found that longer-term exercise reduced expression of the inflammatory proteins that may play an important role in CAA.  “We cannot determine from our study whether this apparent beneficial effect is a short-term response to exercise or the result of the lifetime of cardiovascular activity,” says Robinson. “We hope to address this important question in future work.”

The study not only appears to be the first to look at the impact of exercise on CAA, but also supports research that shows a long-term, or lifelong, exercise habit may have a number of brain benefits. The team’s next steps are to determine whether exercise is purely preventive, or if it can have an impact once a disease such as Alzheimer’s disease or CAA has progressed.

So what do we know for sure about exercise? “If exercise can help improve mood and motor function, as well as reduce inflammation, that’s a benefit as you age,” says Robinson. “Even though we’re still learning about how exercise impacts the brain, we don’t see any evidence that moderate exercise causes harm—but we do see more confirmation that it contributes to brain health.”

John K. Robinson, Ph.D. is Ryan Research Professor of Neuroscience and Professor of Psychology. William Van Nostrand, Ph.D. is Hermann Professor of Neuroscience and Professor of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences.