New studies have determined that aerobic exercise alleviates part of the white-matter damage caused by heavy drinking.
While previous studies have demonstrated that aerobic exercise can slow cognitive decline and decrease negative neural changes associated with aging, this is the first study that determined it could repair alcohol-related damage in the brain.
An author of the study, Hollis Karoly, said, "Engaging in regular aerobic exercise has been found to improve learning, memory and self-control."
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"This seems to be particularly true among older adults who exercise regularly, which suggests that exercise may prevent a natural loss in cognitive functions that occurs as people age."
"Additionally, exercise has been shown to protect white matter in the brain fro damage associated with aging and various diseases."
Karoly said that the damage seen in the brains of heavy drinkers often looks like the same as the natural neural damage in older people.
"Given that exercise is protective against some of the neural and cognitive effects of aging, it seemed likely that aerobic exercise may also work to reverse or prevent some of the damage to the brain caused by chronic alcohol consumption," she said.
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The study included 60 participants with similar brain and clinical data. They went through MRI scans and reported their level of alcohol consumption, loss of control over drinking and aerobic exercise.
"This study found that the relationship between alcohol consumption and white matter depends upon how much people exercise," Karoly said.
Dr. Susan Tapert, a professor of psychiatry, said, "For individuals with low levels of aerobic exercise, heavy drinking was linked to poorer white matter health, but for those with greater exercise involvement, the relationship between alcohol and white matter health was not as strong."
"Although we don't know yet if the exercise is protecting against alcohol-related damage, or if it is a sign of factors linked to brain health, this is a very compelling study."