Can exercise open pathways to healthy brain function later in life?


Exercise has a way of supporting a person’s overall health, and not just when it comes to physical endurance, mobility, flexibility and stamina.

Did you know it is also beneficial to the brain?

As someone begins to participate in consistent physical activity, their body triggers rewards to the brain by releasing feel-good endorphins. Exercise is also known to relieve stress, increase the capacity for joy and promote brain plasticity through increasing oxygen.

A new study gives even more insight into the long-term benefits of exercise, including possibly guarding against degenerative brain ailments such as dementia.

While past studies have revealed how exercise can protect brain cells, this new research expands upon our understanding of the total brain benefits of regular physical activity.

Scientists hope these findings will guide strategies that can help prevent or delay brain function decline.

In the study, more than 100 individuals over the age of 60 participated and logged information about their physical levels over an extended period of time. The chosen participants did not have any known pre-existing issues with memory. In addition, information about their body mass index, insulin levels and other body metrics were gathered and analyzed.

Researchers uncovered a clear distinction in brain mass, or gray matter, between those with the highest levels of physical activity and those who did not exercise as much. In areas of the brain known to be linked to Alzheimer’s disease, the results were similar; people who engaged in greater physical activity had a higher total volume of gray matter.

Another notable correlation is levels of glucose metabolism. People living with dementia are more likely to have reduced glucose metabolism in the brain. Remarkably, the study found people who exercise more tend to have higher average rates of glucose metabolism, suggesting yet another link between good physical health and brain fitness.

Older individuals who invest in an active lifestyle often see noticeable benefits to their cardiovascular health; it’s a big reason why they do it. Additionally, they may also enjoy the associated increased structural brain integrity, which could reduce the chances of developing dementia or experiencing cognitive decline.

While the new research is promising, it’s important to note that increased physical activity does not seem to impact levels of amyloid plaque, a known marker for Alzheimer’s disease, in the brain.

Nevertheless, the study provides increased hope that one day this relentless disease will be much better understood and possibly preventable if people lead a well-balanced life that prioritizes a consistent fitness routine.

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