SYDNEY, Nov. 14 (Xinhua) -- Regular exercise can increase the size of the human brain, a landmark Australian study has found.
The research, published by Australia's National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) at Western Sydney University on Tuesday, revealed that aerobic exercise can significantly improve the health of the left region of the hippocampus.
The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for consolidating information from short-term memory to long-term memory.
Typically, the size of the brain decreases approximately 5 percent every decade from age 40 onwards.
While researchers were unable to prove that exercise increases the volume of the brain, they did find that the health of the region's left side was improved by regular exercise.
"When you exercise you produce a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which may help to prevent age-related decline by reducing the deterioration of the brain," lead author Joseph Firth said in a media release on Tuesday.
"Our data showed that, rather than actually increasing the size of the hippocampus per se, the main 'brain benefits' are due to aerobic exercise slowing down the deterioration in brain size. In other words, exercise can be seen as a maintenance program for the brain."
In collaboration with the University of Manchester in Britain, Firth's team analyzed the results of 14 clinical trials which examined the effects of exercise programs on brain size.
The brains studied belonged to participants aged between 24 and 76 with an average age of 66 years old.
The clinical trials included scans of 737 brain scans from a variety of healthy people, people with mental illnesses and people with cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer's disease.