Why Does Exercise Help to Maintain Brain Health as You Grow Older? Scientists Have Just Unlocked a Major Key to Discovering the Answer.
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It’s common knowledge that physical activity and mental health are linked. Sweating elevates your mood, boosts your self-esteem, and improves your memory and concentration. There’s a new cause to work up a sweat: According to research from the University of California, San Francisco’s Memory and Aging Center, activity may also play a key role in protecting our brains from dementia as we age.
The study, which was published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, confirmed that exercise protects the human brain, particularly in later life. This effect of exercise has long been documented in mouse test subjects, but uncovering the similar association between movement and cognitive lifespan in humans is a big scientific breakthrough.
The wits of UC-San Francisco discovered the link between exercise and the brain by examining persons who gave their brains to scientific research as part of Rush University’s Memory and Aging Project in Chicago. The brains investigated belonged to people who died while they were between the ages of 70 and 80.
This is how they deduced it. A healthy brain is one that smoothly passes electrical impulses across synapses in our brains. Proteins are required for the preservation of synapses, which can be thought of as small gateways between neurons that allow messages to pass through. “Many proteins are found at the synapse, and they help with many aspects of cell-to-cell communication. In order for the synapse to operate properly, those proteins must be in harmony with one another “Kaitlin Casaletto, Ph.D., is the study’s lead author.
Dr. Casaletto’s team looked at the level of physical activity that study participants had before they died as part of their research and discovered that individuals who exercised more had more of those protective proteins in their brains.
Dr. Casaletto tells Well+Good, “We observed that higher levels of everyday physical activity in older persons correlate with higher amounts of these synaptic proteins in brain tissue at autopsy.” “These are correlative, so we don’t know which way they’re going,” says the researcher. “However, it shows that physical exercise may help maintain these protein levels even as people get older.”
“These findings begin to support the dynamic nature of the brain in response to our activities, and the capacity of the elderly brain to mount healthy responses to activity—again, even into the oldest ages.” — Kaitlin Casaletto, PhD
In simple terms, the more someone exercises, the more protective proteins build in their brain—regardless of whether or not the individual breaking a sweat already has Alzheimer’s or dementia-related symptoms.
“These findings confirm the brain’s dynamic character in response to our activities, as well as the aged brain’s ability to mount healthy responses to activity, even at advanced ages. We also discovered pretty linear associations, indicating that the more physical activity a person engages in, the greater the levels of synaptic protein in brain tissue are “According to Dr. Casaletto, 150 minutes of physical exercise each week should be the goal.
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