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Dr. Bradley MacIntosh

Boosting blood flow to the brain to promote recovery and prevent dementia

How can exercise boost blood flow to the brain, promote stroke recovery and prevent dementia?

In recent months, CPSR-Investigator Dr. Bradley MacIntosh and colleagues have published two important studies that provide further insight into how exercise primes the brain for repair.

The first study found that a single bout of aerobic exercise flushes the circuitry in the brain with blood, activates brain regions and improves responses to simple tasks.

The second study of patients who participated in a cardiac rehab program found that fitness was associated with maintaining the size of the brain’s most important memory centre.

“We now have a better understanding of just how important fitness is in preserving brain health,” says Dr. MacIntosh, an expert in medical biophysics.

Recent research findings will lead to further inquiry, including:
• studies on older adults with stroke to measure lasting effects of exercise on brain blood flow;
• magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of cardiac patients who participated in exercise programs to measure changes in brain regions responsible for motor learning and memory; and,
• studies on the benefits of exercise for patients who have had small, sometimes called covert or silent, strokes.

People who have experienced covert strokes “are card-carrying stroke patients but they have very modest impairments,” usually related to memory and cognition, Dr. MacIntosh says.

“The reason why it’s important to study these people is because they are currently set aside in the medical system. There is no medical evidence to indicate the required therapy.”

CPSR researchers believe exercise may be the best medicine to help prevent the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and to improve thinking, decision-making and memory.

Their findings could provide evidence to change medical practice and promote the use of exercise prescriptions to stave off the silver tsunami of brain diseases and improve recovery from stroke.