We all worry about our memory as we get older, and sadly it is true that after age 45 areas in the brain associated with memory, attention and perception do begin to shrink. But… it´s not all bad news! There is a large body of evidence now showing us how beneficial exercise is for the brain.
When we are active we increase blood flow around the body, and this in turn increases blood flow to the brain – bringing more oxygen, growth factors, hormones and nutrients to the brain. Aerobic exercise (cycling, running, etc.) stimulates production of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which contributes to the growth of new neurones in the brain – even after 45!
Fifteen years ago researchers found that after using a running wheel there was a boost in neurone formation in the hippocampi (associated with memory) area of the brain in mice. And in humans, older adults who undertook aerobic exercise three times a week for one year grew larger hippocampi areas. This is part of the reason why doctors today believe that walking, running and cycling may help prevent dementia.
Liu-Ambrose tested this hypothesis in people with mild cognitive impairment known to be at greater risk of developing dementia. She compared aerobic exercise and strength training in 86 women with early cognitive dysfunction.
One group lifted weights twice a week for an hour each time, another group did brisk walking and a third group did stretching only. After six months both exercise groups had an improvement in spatial memory (the ability to remember places and surroundings). The aerobic group showed improvements in verbal memory (finding that word you were searching for). The weight lifting group showed other improvements, such as in executive function (reasoning, multi-tasking, complex thinking) and in associative memory (the ability to link someone’s face to their name for instance). The group that performed only stretching showed no effects on memory.
Whilst aerobic exercise is undoubtedly good for the brain, resistance exercise (weight training or using body resistance) reduces inflammation of a type that is known to be associated with dementia.
Resisted and aerobic exercise help the brain in different ways. If you need help being more active and want to learn about the best exercise for your brain, please get in touch. It’s never too late to improve.
Physiotherapy lecturer and counsellor Rachel Garrod can be contacted at: Tel. (+34) 652 281 122; email@example.com