Can Exercise Protect the Brain from Alcohol?
Going for a run the morning after an epic bender may be the last thing on your throbbing mind, but (once that headache dies down) it may be one of the best things you can do for your brain.
Inspired by studies that show exercise can stop or reverse age- and disease-related brain shrinkage (See our coverage earlier this week), researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder wondered if the same might apply to brain damage caused by alcohol abuse.
The scientists pulled 60 men and women from a larger pool of moderate to heavy drinkers and gathered details about the participants’ levels of regular exercise. They then correlated those results with targeted MRI scans of white matter and found an interesting link:
“These results indicate that the association between heavy alcohol consumption and [white matter] damage … and the association between alcohol consumption and loss of control over drinking are greater among individuals who do not exercise regularly.”
Translation: subjects who drank a lot and exercised a lot didn’t have much, if any, damage to their white matter; those who drank a lot and didn’t exercise did have significant damage.
Since this study only examines association and not causality, the results are “preliminary but promising,” said co-author Angela Bryan in a press release. “From my perspective,” Bryan added, “the major finding is the possibility that exercise might be able to either buffer against or undo some of the damage that heavy alcohol use does to the brain.”