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Exercise May Protect Brain Against Heavy Drinking, Study Suggests

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Exercise may help protect the brains of people who drink heavily, a new study suggests. Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder found exercise may help prevent damage to white matter in heavy drinkers. White matter is involved with learning, processing, thinking and communication between various regions of the brain.

Previous research found heavy alcohol exposure may have an adverse effect on white matter, U.S. News reports. The new study indicated that regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, running or bicycling, is associated with less damage to white matter in heavy drinkers.

The 60 participants, who were moderate or heavy drinkers, were asked about their drinking behaviors, their attempts to control their drinking, and their exercise routines. They also underwent brain scans that looked at white matter.

“We found that for people who drink a lot and exercise a lot, there was not a strong relationship between alcohol and white matter,” lead researcher Hollis Karoly said in a news release. “But for people who drink a lot and don’t exercise, our study showed the integrity of white matter is compromised in several areas of the brain. It basically means white matter is not moving messages between areas of the brain as efficiently as normal.”

Karoly noted it is not yet known how much exercise is needed to protect white matter. “This is an exploratory study and it is not our intention to suggest a person can erase the physiological damage of years of heavy drinking by exercising,” she said.  “Some of the specific mechanisms in the brain linked to heavy drinking and exercise are not well understood, and we hope our study will inspire future research on the subject.”

The findings appear in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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