Aerobic exercise may protect brain from alcohol damage

Aerobic ExcerciseResearchers found that aerobic exercise may protect white matter in brain from alcohol-related damage. (Thinkstock)

Aerobic exercise known to slow cognitive decline, may also prevent or repair damage to the brain caused by alcohol, a new study has found.

US researchers found that aerobic exercise may protect white matter in the brain from alcohol-related damage. Heavy long-term alcohol consumption leads to neural damage that looks similar to the decline in neuro-cognitive functioning observed as people age, said Hollis C Karoly, a graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder and corresponding author of the study.

"Given that exercise is protective against some of the neural and cognitive effects of ageing, 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," Karoly said.

Karoly and her colleagues had 60 participants (37 men, 23 women), drawn from a larger database designed to share common brain and clinical data collected across studies on alcohol and nicotine use, undergo a diffusion tensor imaging session.

All participants also completed measures of alcohol consumption, loss of control over drinking, and aerobic exercise participation.

Study authors then examined relationships among exercise, alcohol, and fractional anisotropy in the superior longitudinal fasciculus, external capsule, fornix and superior and anterior corona radiata, as well as self-reported loss of control over drinking.

"This study found that the relationship between alcohol consumption and white matter depends upon how much people exercise," said Karoly. "For individual 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," said Susan F Tapert from the University of California, San Diego.

"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. "This suggests that individuals who have experienced alcohol-related brain problems could possibly use exercise to help recover those effects; studying people over time will tell us if this is in fact the case," Tapert said.

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