Exercise can improve your brain. Air pollution can take away those benefits.

You may be missing out on some of the brain benefits of exercise, according to two large new studies on exercise, air quality and brain health. Studies, involving tens of thousands of British men and women, show that, most of the time, vigorous runners and cyclists have larger brains and a lower risk of dementia than those who run and cycle. with less active people. But if people exercised in areas with even moderate levels of air pollution, the brain improvements expected from exercise almost disappeared.

New studies raise questions about how to balance the undeniable health benefits of exercise with the downsides of breathing bad air and highlight what changes our environment can Exercise has – and does not – do for our bodies.

A large body of evidence demonstrates that, overall, exercise boosts our brains. In studies, active people often play sports more gray matter in more parts of their brain than those who are sedentary. Gray matter is made up of the brain’s essential functioning neurons. Fit people also tend to healthier white matter, that is, the cells that support and connect neurons. The white matter often sloughs off with age, shrinks, and develops Swiss cheese-like lesions even in healthy adults. But everyone’s white matter showed less lesions and was smaller.

Partly as a result of these brain changes, exercise is strongly associated with reduced risk of dementia and other memory problems with age.

But air pollution has the opposite effect on the brain. In one Research 2013For example, older Americans living in areas with high levels of air pollution show schizophrenia on brain scans and tend to develop higher rates of mental decline than older adults living in other places. And in a 2021 study of mice kept in cages located near a heavily trafficked, congested road tunnel in Northern California, most people who were bred with the rodent-like predisposition of Alzheimer’s early develop dementia. But neither did another group of mice with no genetic predisposition to the disease.

However, very few studies have explored how exercise and air pollution might interact inside our skulls and whether exercising in smoky air protects our brains from toxic fumes. or undermine what we get from exercise.

So for the first study, Published in January in the journal Neurology, researchers at the University of Arizona and the University of Southern California collected records of 8,600 middle-aged adults enrolled in the UK Biobank. A vast trove of health and lifestyle data, the Biobank holds information on more than 500,000 adults in the UK, such as age, home location, socioeconomic status, genome and health data abundant. Some participants also completed brain scans and wore activity trackers for a week to track their exercise habits.

The researchers focused on people who had worn monitors, had their brains scanned and, according to their followers, often exercised vigorously, such as by running, which means they were breathing heavily while breathing. practice. The harder you breathe, the more pollutants you pull into the air. The researchers also included a number of people who never exercised vigorously, for comparison.

Using established air quality models, they then estimated the air pollution levels where people lived and, finally, compared the results of everyone’s brain scans.

As expected, in general, vigorous exercise is associated with solid brain health. Men and women who lived and worked in areas with little air pollution showed relatively large amounts of gray matter and low rates of white matter damage, compared with those who never exercised heavily. And the more they exercised, the better their brains tended to look.

But any beneficial association almost disappeared when exercisers lived in areas with even moderate air pollution. (Levels in this study were mostly within the limits considered to be acceptable for health by European and American air quality standards.) Their gray matter volume was smaller and their damage was greater. damaged white matter more than those who lived and exercised to avoid pollution, even when they exercised. alike.

Extending these findings in a second, follow up research Published this month in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Practice, the same scientists repeated aspects of this experiment with 35,562 other older UK Biobank participants, comparing habits people’s exercise, local pollution levels, and a diagnosis of dementia, if applicable. The data shows that the more people exercise, the less likely they are to develop dementia over time – as long as the air in their place is fresh. However, when it was contaminated in moderation, they increased their risk of long-term memory loss, whether they exercised or not.

“These data are of considerable importance for understanding,” said Pamela Lein, a professor of neurotoxicology at the University of California, Davis, who led previous research on rats and pollution. our study of modifiable risk factors for brain aging. She was not involved in the new studies. “The claim that air pollution negates the beneficial effects of exercise on brain health is alarming and increases the urgency for the development of more effective management policies” related. regarding air quality.

The studies have limitations. They are observational and show a link between exercise, pollution and brain health, but cannot prove that bad air directly counteracts the brain benefits of exercise or that it does. how could happen. They also don’t consider where people practice, only that some live in places where the air is cold.

But the results show that air quality affects exercise results, and for the benefit of our brains, we should try not to exercise in bad air, said David Raichlen, professor of biological sciences at USC and colleagues said. authors of new studies.

In fact, some measures may help boost the brain’s benefits of exercise, experts say.

  • Dr Raichlen said: “Stay away from busy highways, if possible. Automobile exhaust is one of the worst pollutants for human health.

  • Check local conditions at airnow.gov, which uses the color-coded Air Quality Index to rate ZIP-code air quality. Most weather apps also include local AQI for training purposes in Green, Good air quality conditions. Air quality changes during the day, so check back in a few hours if conditions don’t seem favorable at first.

  • Working from home might not be better. Dr Raichlen said: “Available evidence suggests that indoor pollution levels are comparable to those outside, unless a building, such as a gym, has extensive air filtration installed. Pollutants can easily enter buildings through open doors or windows or cracks in structures, and governments don’t regularly monitor indoor air quality. You can learn more at Environmental Protection Agency website.

  • Masks can be helpful. Both surgical masks and N95 respirators filter out some unhealthy particles, such as soot and particles, said Melissa Furlong, an environmental epidemiologist at the University of Arizona and co-author of two studies. other substance. “If you don’t mind wearing a mask while exercising,” she says, “this can lead to a reduction in your exposure to particles.”

  • Most importantly, keep exercising. “We don’t want to encourage people to be physically active,” even if the air conditions aren’t ideal, says Dr Raichlan. In new studies, the brains of people who exercised in polluted air didn’t look any better, he points out – but their brains were no worse than those of people who didn’t exercise at all.

So, if your only chance to exercise is with some airborne pollution, put on a mask and go. Then check your local AQI forecast to look for clearer conditions in the future. Dr. Raichlen says that the better the air quality around you when you exercise, the better the exercise will be for your brain.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/23/well/move/exercise-air-pollution-dementia.html Exercise can improve your brain. Air pollution can take away those benefits.

Fry Electronics Team

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