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Exercise counteracts the harmful effects on the brain of a diet high in sugar and fat

July 18, 2022
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Exercise counteracts the harmful effects on the brain of a diet high in sugar and fat

4 days of a diet high in sugar and fat are enough to temporarily impair the ability to learn and memorize. But the solution, fortunately, exists, and it is physical exercise, such as swimming, capable of reversing this process of loss of cognitive function and protecting the brain from the damage that an incorrect diet can cause. This is the result of a very recent scientific research, published in the journal Nutrients (Zhang et al, Nutrients, 2022).

The effects of an unbalanced diet high in fat and sugar

A diet high in fat and sugar is the typical diet of the Western world. Snacks, sweets and refined carbohydrates are the safe haven for many who lead often very stressful lives. Unfortunately, this diet has consequences. In fact, in the long term, it can increase the risk of developing obesity, inflammation, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression and cellular degeneration. Not only that, a diet of this type also acts on the brain by reducing cognitive function and learning ability, at all ages, and, above all, even in the short term and well before obesity appears. In fact, as mentioned in the introduction, after just 4 days a diet high in fat and sugar can compromise the functioning of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memorization. This is believed to occur through several mechanisms. In fact, a diet high in sugar and fat increases inflammation and resistance to insulin in the brain and at the same time reduces brain plasticity. Is it possible to block and reverse the triggered process? The good news is that it is possible to do this by changing your diet but also by ensuring healthy and regular exercise.

How swimming protects the brain

The study we are talking about today focused on the benefits of physical exercise at the brain level. The research took place in the laboratory on a population of mice. The mice were divided into two groups. The first group was fed a diet high in fat and sugar for 3 months, while the second group was given a standard diet, without excess. Well, at the end of these three months the mice that had followed the diet high in sugar and fat presented a cognitive decline, compared to those who had been fed normally. Subsequently, the mice, which were given a diet rich in sugars and fats, were subjected to swimming sessions for 2 months. What happened after this time was that swimming was able to improve cognitive functioning, reducing inflammation and stimulating synaptic plasticity again. This latter aspect is confirmed by the increase in the values of the cerebral neurotrophic factor, a protein that stimulates the survival and differentiation of neurons and synapses.


Hence the importance of a healthy and balanced diet, which does not contain excesses of fats, sugars and refined foods, and of an active lifestyle, which includes moderate physical activity, such as swimming, but also light running or the bicycle, or even a brisk walk, which is truly within everyone's reach and can be practiced anywhere. By always maintaining moderation, with the possibility of indulging in a sin of gluttony time to time, in this way it is possible not only to keep body weight under control and keep away heart diseases and diabetes, but also to protect the brain and keep it active and well functioning.

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