How physical activity protects the brain from aging

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Physical exercise prevents dementia

To find an explanation of how physical activity is linked to brain health, the researchers studied a large group of hundreds of people over the age of 80. A team of scientists from several American scientific institutions, supported by the Alzheimer’s Association, monitored their health and physical activity (using movement monitoring devices). It was noted, among other things, how often they got up and moved around in the neighborhood, and how often they were physically active.

During this time, 167 subjects, who were approximately 90 years of age, died, and two-thirds of them had no signs of dementia. Their brains were then examined for microglia activation (these are non-neuronal cells of the nervous system responsible for maintaining homeostasis in it, a type of macrophage involved in the immune response) and the presence of toxic proteins (amyloid and tau associated with diseases of the brain).

“Lower microglial activation could be the path between physical activity and brain health in elderly people,” write the researchers in the Journal of Neuroscience.

These immune cells behaved differently in the brains of the elderly and physically active people to their peers who had given up exercise. So the researchers concluded that physical activity reduces the risk of developing dementia in old age, and – even better news here – even a small amount of exercise is enough for it to work. It is not about intensive exercise, but about daily walks, and even the usual backyard tannin.

And a short explanation of the role of microglia in the brain. These immune cells guard the “quality” of neurons (nerve cells) and eliminate those that are weak or damaged. When the microglial cell spots a damaged neuron, it releases neurochemicals that generate a slight inflammation in the brain, making it easier for the body to get rid of badly functioning cells. The microglia then releases another compound that stops the inflammation and the brain returns to normal.

However, it was noticed that with age the microglia shows more and more activity, but it does not extinguish the inflammation afterwards. As a result, chronic inflammation in the brain destroys its structure and leads to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Hence, the most important in old age is “calming down” the microglia. It turned out that lower microglia activation is somehow related to physical activity.

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Physical activity increases our brain

It has already been shown that in older sedentary people, the volume of the hippocampus increases as soon as they begin to move regularly, so they go for even hour walks. The hippocampus is our memory center, which unfortunately tends to shrink in old age. However, research suggests that even in people with dementia who are physically active, the first symptoms of the disease appear later. Exercise and outdoor exercise in middle and old age also reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Research shows that moderate exercise can reduce the risk of dementia from any cause. Our findings also reveal that, compared to women, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is lower for men who exercise. Nevertheless, any physical activity reduces the risk of cognitive deterioration in both women and men – these are the conclusions of the research conducted at Universiti Putra Malausia (Malaysia), published in “BioMed Research International” (a peer-reviewed open-access scientific journal ).

How exactly does physical movement rebuild the brain?

This intriguing question still bothers scientists, even though they already have some clues. Thus, experiments with animals show that during exercise, the body produces hormones and other neurochemical substances, which in turn stimulate the formation of new neurons and connections between them (synapses), blood vessels from Feeding young brain cells etc. (research conducted at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland).

However, it is difficult to transfer the results of animal studies directly to humans. Scientists therefore looked at the human brain and concluded that microglial cells probably play a role here. Microglia are probably not the only cells that are significantly affected by physical movement. However, the study found that it is in elderly physically active people that microglia appear to function properly (unlike in sedentary people).

“Physical activity affects countless other cells, genes and chemicals in the brain, and some of these changes may be even more important than microglia to mental health,” says Kaitlin B. Casaletto of UCSF Memory and Aging Center (California) where the study was carried out. Therefore, scientists are calling for more research.

Sources: New York Times, Journal of Neuroscience

About Peter Wilson

In love with technology, with an eye towards smartphones, he does not disdain any activity linked to the Nerd world. TV series, movies, manga, anime, and comics (Marvel addicted) are the order of the day.

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