Aerobic exercise may help prevent and perhaps even reverse some of the brain damage associated with heavy alcohol consumption, according to a new University of Colorado Boulder study.
The study results suggest that regular aerobic exercise may be associated with less damage to the brain’s “white matter” among heavy alcohol users. White matter, along with grey matter, are the organ’s two major physical components. White matter is composed of bundles of nerve cells that act as transmission lines to facilitate communication between various parts of the brain.
The study group included 60 people, ranging from moderate drinkers to heavy drinkers. The subjects self-reported levels of drinking, as well as the amount of exercise they were undertaking. Each of the test subjects previously had undergone a modified type of MRI known as Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI). The imagery allowed the researchers to track the position and direction of water molecules travelling parallel to axons, or nerve fibres, in the white matter as they move through the brain. DTI allows researchers to see the orientation of the axons, different colours represented different directions of travel, providing valuable information about the brain’s communication superhighways.
The research team targeted several parts of the brain, including the external capsule, a collection of white matter fibres connecting different layers of the brain. They also looked at the superior longitudinal fasciculus, two long bundles of neurons connecting the front and back of the cerebrum, which is the largest part of the brain and is believed to be the place where the origin of thoughts, perception, judgment, decision-making and imagination takes place.
Source: Aerobic Exercise Moderates the Effect of Heavy Alcohol Consumption on White Matter Damage. Hollis C. Karoly, Courtney J. Stevens, Rachel E. Thayer, Renee E. Magnan, Angela D. Bryan, Kent E. Hutchison. Article first published online: 2 APR 2013 Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.