An old adage claims that overdoing alcohol kills brain cells. But if you’re the kind of drinker who mulls over the state of your brain, researchers have welcome news: a way to possibly reverse some of that alcohol-induced intellectual shrinkage.
A University of Colorado Boulder study indicates that regular aerobic exercise like walking, running or bicycling is associated with less damage to the brain’s white matter among heavy alcohol users. White matter and gray matter compose the brain’s two major physical components. White matter consists of bundles of nerve cells that act as transmission lines to facilitate communication between various parts of the brain, says researcher Hollis Karoly.
“We found that for people who drink a lot and exercise a lot, there was not a strong relationship between alcohol and white matter,” says Karoly. “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.”
“What our data suggest is that beyond just giving people a different outlet for cravings or urges for alcohol, exercise might also help to repair the damage that may have been done to the brain,” says researcher Angela Bryan. “It might even be a more promising treatment approach for alcohol problems because it is both a behavioral treatment and a treatment that has the potential to make the brain more healthy. The healthier the brain is, the more likely a person with alcohol issues is to recover.”