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A growing body of research demonstrates that exercise has beneficial effects on brain health. N-acetyl aspartic acid (NAA) is a compound found in the central nervous system that serves as a biomarker of neuronal health and energy production. Findings from a new study indicate that lower body fat and higher cardiorespiratory fitness are positively correlated with NAA levels.

Cardiorespiratory fitness is a measure of the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to skeletal muscles during sustained physical activity. It is commonly measured by VO2 max, a person’s maximum rate of oxygen consumption while under maximal physical stress. Cardiorespiratory fitness is linked with lower body fat composition.

The study involved 290 healthy young adults (average age, 24 years). Each of the participants' body composition and cardiorespiratory fitness were assessed. Then the participants underwent magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to assess their NAA levels.

The MRS scans revealed that participants with less body fat and higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness had higher levels of NAA in the white matter of their brains. This association was driven primarily by a participant’s whole-body total percent fat, suggesting that body fat might have negative effects on brain health. Exercise exerts a wide range of beneficial effects on brain health. Watch this podcast featuring Dr. Rhonda Patrick in which she describes how exercise might be useful in treating or reducing the risk of depression.

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