Finding time to exercise every day could be powerful tool in warding off brain shrinkage, called atrophy, that comes with aging, according to a new study.
Researchers from the Center for Development of Advanced Medicine for Dementia in Japan found that adults who moved more during the day were less likely to experience progression of frontal lobe atrophy, which is the shrinking of the frontal lobe region of the brain. That part of the brain plays a part in emotions, problem-solving, memory, judgment and personality.
"Incorporating physical activity into your daily routine can be a helpful step to prevent conditions caused by brain atrophy, such as dementia," study researcher Atsumu Yuki Ph.D., said in a statement.
The study, to be published next month in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, included 381 men and 393 women, who were followed for an average of eight years.
Researchers conducted MRI brain scans on the study participants at the beginning and end of the study period to monitor atrophy of the frontal lobe and the temporal lobe of the brain. Their daily activity levels were monitored via accelerometry sensors.
The researchers found that people who had expended the most energy from physical activity in the study, as well as people who took the most steps, had lower odds of developing frontal lobe atrophy than those who took the least steps and had the least amount of physical activity. However, they didn't find a link between exercise and atrophy of the temporal lobe.
A similar study in the journal Neurology, which was published just recently, also showed an association between physical activity and decreased brain atrophy, as well as fewer white matter brain lesions, in people over age 70. However, the University of Edinburgh researchers noted that because the study was observational, it was unclear which factor caused the other.
For more brain benefits of exercise, click through the slideshow:
It Sharpens Thinking
Earlier this year, Dartmouth researchers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/31/exercise-makes-you-smarter-adhd-research_n_1528383.html">added support to mounting evidence about the way that exercise affects learning</a> and mental acuity: it boosts the production of “brain derived neurotrophic factor" -- or BDNF – a protein that is thought to help with mental acuity, learning and memory.
It May Alleviate Childhood ADHD Symptoms
In the same Dartmouth study, the researchers discovered that, thanks to the BDNF boost, exercise also helped to <a href="http://www.wired.com/playbook/2012/05/exercise-memory-and-adhd/">alleviate ADHD-like symptoms in juvenile rats</a>. Since BDNF is involved in the brain's development and growth of new cells, the effect was more profound on the younger rats, with their still-developing brains and more rapid cell turnover, compared to adult rats.
It Helps You Learn New Tricks
Even one exercise session can help you retain physical skills by enhancing what's commonly known as "muscle memory" or "motor memory," according to <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3433433/">new research published in <em>PlosOne</em>.</a> <a href="http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/26/how-exercise-can-help-you-master-new-skills/">As the New York <em>Times</em> reported</a>, men who were taught to follow a complicated pattern on a computer and subsequently exercised were better able to remember the pattern in subsequent days than the men who didn't exercise after the initial squiggle test.
It Supports Problem-Solving
In one study, mice that exercised by running not only generated new neurons, but those neurons lit up when the mice performed unfamiliar tasks like <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/magazine/how-exercise-could-lead-to-a-better-brain.html?pagewanted=all">navigating a new environment</a>.
It Helps Alleviate Symptoms Of Depression
When you exercise, your pituitary gland releases endorphins to help mitigate the physical stress and pain you are experiencing. But those endorphins may play a more important and longer-lasting role: they could help alleviate symptoms of depression, <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression-and-exercise/MH00043">according to a Mayo Clinic report</a>.
It Reduces Stress
Although exercising raises our levels of cortisol -- the hormone that causes physical stress and is even associated with long-term memory impairment -- its overall effect is one of a stress reducer. That's because exercise increases the <a href="http://www.hormones.gr/57/article/article.html">body's threshold for cortisol</a>, making you more inured to stressors.
It Helps Delay Age-Associated Memory Loss
As we get older, an area of the brain called the hippocampus shrinks. That's why age is associated with memory loss across the board. However, profound memory loss -- such as in dementia and Alzheimer's disease patients -- is also contributed to by accelerated hippocampus shrinking. Luckily, the hippocampus is also an area of the brain that generate new neurons throughout a lifespan. And, <a href="http://www.npr.org/2011/02/21/133777018/aerobic-exercise-may-improve-memory-in-seniors">the research shows</a>, exercise promotes new neural growth in this area.
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