Exercise may counteract alcohol’s bad brain effects, according to new research. Fitness freaks and workout buffs are less likely to experience the white matter damage that drinking alcohol typically brings.
White matter in the brain is uber-important for learning, processing, communication and cognition. Heavy drinking typically damages white matter. But people who exercised frequently didn’t show the same kind of white matter damage from heavy drinking as non-exercisers did.
The research was conducted by Hollis Karoly, a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. Previous studies have shown aerobic exercise to be generally good for the brain, and Karoly says these “protective or reparative neurobiological effects” of exercise extend to those who drink heavily.
Though “given that we did not have control over the duration, intensity, frequency or type of aerobic exercise in which participants engaged, it is difficult to address the ‘dose’ of aerobic exercise that may be necessary to obtain neuroprotective benefits,” the study says.
In January, anthropologist David A. Raichlen published a paper on how exercise was likely the reason human beings ended up getting all smart to begin with. According to Raichlen, physical activity was probably more influential than either socializing or diet on human brain development.