It is a well-known fact that exercise and mental health are intertwined. When you get sweaty, you boost your mood, increase your self-esteem and improve your memory and focus. Now there's a new reason to sweat: Research from the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco, indicates that movement can also play an important role in protecting our brains from dementia as we get older.
Published in Alzheimer's and dementia: Journal of the Alzheimers Association, the study confirmed that exercise has a protective effect on the human brain - especially at a later age. Researchers have long observed this benefit of exercise in mouse test subjects before, but discovered the same relationship between movement and cognitive life in human the brain represents a major scientific milestone. The minds at UC-San Francisco revealed this training-brain connection by studying people who donated their brains to scientific research as part of the Memory and Aging Project at Rush University in Chicago. The brains examined belonged to people who were between 70 and 80 years old at the time of their death.
Here's how they found out. A healthy brain is one that transmits electrical signals effortlessly through the synapses of our brains. You can think of synapses as small doorways between neurons that let the signals penetrate and proteins are essential for the maintenance of these small doorways. "There are many proteins present at the synapse that help facilitate different aspects of cell-to-cell communication. These proteins must be in balance with each other for the synapse to function optimally," writes study author Kaitlin Casaletto, Ph.D. d. .
As part of their research, Dr. Casaletto's team found the level of physical activity that the study participants had before they passed away - and found that those who exercised more tended to have more of these protective proteins in their brains. "We found that higher levels of daily physical activity in older adults relate to higher levels of these synaptic proteins in brain tissue at autopsy," says Dr. Casaletto Well + good. "These are correlative, so we do not know directionality, but it does suggest that physical activity may promote the maintenance of these protein levels even in the oldest ages."
"These results are beginning to support the dynamic nature of the brain in response to our activities and the capacity of the older brain to mount healthy responses to activity - again, even at older ages." - Kaitlin Casaletto, PhD
In short, it means that the more someone exercises, the more protective proteins develop in the brain - whether the person who is sweating already has markers for Alzheimer's or dementia. "These results are beginning to support the dynamic nature of the brain in response to our activities, and the ability of the older brain to mount healthy responses to activity - again, even at older ages. We also found fairly linear relationships - meaning more physical activity, the higher the synaptic protein levels in brain tissue, "says Dr. Casaletto and adds that she recommends aiming for about 150 minutes a week of physical activity.
So the next time you exercise, be sure to dedicate a mile, burpee or crunch to the little proteins in your brain. They make one whole much to you.
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