Sperling Prostate Center

How to Grow Old with a Healthy Brain (and Prostate)

The prostate gland, tucked away in its pelvic bed, is a small organ distant from the large, complex one called the brain. Similarly, our prostate blogs are far removed from brain-related topics. However, I recently came across a new study about old-age brain health that reveals common ground between these two organs: they both need exercise.

Our followers know we’ve posted many times on exercise as it relates to prostate cancer, prostate cancer metastasis, and even prostate cancer anxiety. Also, our whole-person philosophy has led to exercise topics on total wellness. Thus, I want to share this new research on how to help your brain age well through exercise.

How long do you expect to live? 75? 80? 90 or older? How many of your remaining years will you still be in robust physical and mental health? Did you know there are five small societies on the planet with the healthiest, longest-living populations? The amount and kind of exercise built into their lifestyles is a key factor not only in avoiding things like cardiovascular disease and crippling arthritis, but also how well their elders process information, solve problems, and have meaningful lives into their 90s and beyond.

Chances are you’re not currently living in one of these five specific small societies located in Greece, Costa Rica, Japan, Sardinia and California. No matter where you do live, the published paper titled “Associations between physical exercise type, fluid intelligence, executive function, and processing speed in the oldest-old (85 +)”[i]identifies the kind of exercise you need to do if you want to have a top performing brain in your golden years. The authors write, “While much is known about the effects of physical exercise in adult humans, literature on the oldest-old (≥85 years old) is sparse.” Thus, the researcher team out to explore this territory.

Study findings

Based on 184 cognitively healthy participants ages 85-99, the authors analyzed the amount and kind of self-reported exercise for each individual, and evaluated how well they performed on objective cognitive measures of processing speed and executive functioning. Participants fell into three categories:

  1. Those who were sedentary (no regular exercise)
  2. Those who performed cardio/aerobic exercise alone
  3. Those who combined cardio/aerobics with strength training.

What the team found is worth a big “wow”! Those who did only cardio/aerobics performed no better on the cognitive evaluation tests than the sedentary group. However, those who performed both cardio/aerobic activity AND strength training outperformed the other two groups significantly:

The cardio plus strength training group scored significantly better than the sedentary group on coding and symbol search tests. The cardio plus strength training group also scored significantly better than the cardio-alone group on symbol search, letter fluency, and Stroop Color-Word tests.[ii]

How does exercise help the brain?

The results of the above research offer compelling exercise that combination exercise keeps the brain youthful, but what are the exact reasons for this? Jeff Edwards, a professor of cell biology and physiology breaks it into three important mechanisms:

1. By boosting blood flow in the body, the increased circulation helps provide the brain with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to do its job. For instance, thinking requires fuel because it burns calories. A Time magazine article reports, “While the brain represents just 2% of a person’s total body weight, it accounts for 20% of the body’s energy use … That means during a typical day, a person uses about 320 calories just to think.”

2. Exercise preserves the function and capacity for memories. It increases molecular factors and helps form new interconnections among brain neurons and pathways that facilitate absorbing new information and laying down long-term memory.

3. Exercise lowers the impact of stress on the brain by reducing the number of stress receptors in an area of the brain called the hippocampus; among its functions are 1) transferring short-term memories into long-term storage, and 2) help with emotional processing, including decreasing things like anxiety that interfere with cognitive function.

We have so many great reasons to commit to a regular workout that incorporates both aerobics and strength training! By way of connecting the prostate and the brain I’d like to add one more. As a man ages, his prostate gland becomes more vulnerable to aging-related conditions like BPH (gland enlargement) and PCa. A well-operating brain continues to seek new ideas on how to stay healthy— including prostate health—and acts as our own internal “coach” to keep us on track with a commitment to exercise. Thus, working out has synergistic benefits for both brain and prostate health. Remember: for best results, integrate cardio and strength programs in your personal fitness protocol.

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

[i] Ho BD, Gullett JM, Anton S, Franchetti MK, Bharadwaj PK et al. Associations between physical exercise type, fluid intelligence, executive function, and processing speed in the oldest-old (85 +). Geroscience. 2023 Jul 31.
[ii] Robby Berman. “Aerobic plus strength training could help keep the brain young.” Medical News Today. Sep. 30, 2023. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/aerobic-plus-strength-training-could-help-keep-the-brain-young


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

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