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More evidence that strenuous exercise prevents age-related cognitive decline

Regular exercise protects the brain against damage and keeps them healthy in old age, new evidence suggests.

German scientists discovered that cycling stopped the deterioration of gray matter among hundreds of volunteers with an average age of 52 years.

But the researchers claimed “just about any physical activity that makes your heart beat faster” would have the same effect.

Gray matter shrinks as people age, causing a large number of cognitive problems, such as memory loss and problem solving.

Scientists discovered that cycling halted the decline of gray matter, but said that “almost any physical activity that makes your heart beat faster” would have the same effect (stock)

This is because arteries become less efficient at pumping oxygen-rich blood to the brain.

Academics claim that strenuous exercise, such as cycling, running, and swimming, can help because it increases oxygen uptake.

Oxygen is thought to keep the brain cells in the brain region healthy and functioning properly.

The researchers recommend moderate exercise for two and a half hours a week to keep the brain as healthy as possible.

The NHS defines moderate exercise as an increased heart rate, but still able to talk, such as brisk walking and tennis.

Researchers based on the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn looked at 2,013 adults.

They examined them in phases between 1997 and 2012. It is not clear how the tests were performed regularly.

Cardiorespiratory fitness was measured with breathing apparatus while volunteers rode an exercise bike.

The scientists led by Dr. Katharina Wittfeld, then referred to MRI scans of participants’ brains.

The team discovered that suitable volunteers had more gray matter than those who struggled on the home trainer.

HOW MANY EXERCISE SHOULD YOU DO?

To stay healthy, adults from 19 to 64 must try to be active on a daily basis and must do the following:

  • at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or brisk walking every week and
  • strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)

Or:

  • 75 minutes of powerful aerobic activity such as running or a game of tennis every week and
  • strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)

Or:

  • a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week – for example 2 x 30 minutes of running plus 30 minutes of brisk walking equals 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and
  • strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)

A good rule is that 1 minute vigorous activity offers the same health benefits as 2 minute moderate activity.

One way to do your recommended 150 minute weekly physical activity is to do 30 minutes on 5 days each week.

All adults must also sit for long periods with mild activity ending.

Source: NHS

Gray matter helps control sensory perception, such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making and self-discipline.

An editorial from the American non-profit organization Mayo Clinic said the results were “encouraging.”

It also added the findings to “contributing to the growing literature regarding exercise and brain health.”

Dr. Ronald Petersen, neurologist at the Mayo Clinic, said: “This provides indirect evidence that aerobic exercise can have a positive influence on cognitive function in addition to physical fitness.

“Another important feature of the research is that these results can also apply to older adults.

“There is good evidence of the value of exercise in middle age, but it is encouraging that there can also be positive effects on the brain later in life.”

Michael Joyner, an anesthesiologist and physiologist at the Mayo Clinic, added: “This is another piece of the puzzle that protects physical activity and physical fitness from aging-related cognitive decline.

“There is already good … evidence for this, as well as new data showing that physical activity and fitness are associated with improved brain blood vessel function.”

The study was published in the medical journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

It is the latest in a growing number of studies that has shown that exercise is good for both the brain and the body.

A study by researchers at Boston University last April found that people who do more physical activity – even if it is as light as walking – slow down the aging process of their brains and have less chance of dementia.

They found that every extra hour of physical activity in an average week corresponded to a brain age of 1.1 years younger.

A study by the Federal University of Rio de Janerio in Brazil in January 2019 suggested that a hormone released during exercise protected the brain against Alzheimer’s disease.

Irisine is a messenger protein that is generated by muscle tissue carried by the body in the blood.

The team found lower levels of the hormone in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients compared to healthy individuals.

And a 2017 study by University College London showed that people over 50 could significantly lower their risk of dementia by exercising regularly.

HOW IS EXERCISE GOOD FOR THE BRAIN?

Many scientific studies encourage people to practice by promoting the benefits it could have for their brains – but what exactly does it do?

In a summary of recent research, Harvard Health Letter’s executive editor, Heidi Godman, explained that it can increase the size of certain parts of the brain, improve sleep, and stimulate healthier brain cells.

Research from the University of British Columbia showed that people who regularly did aerobic exercises – such as running, swimming or cycling – have larger and more active brain hippocampal regions that are associated with learning and emotions.

Other research adds that prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex are usually larger in people who exercise more often – these regions determine thinking and memory.

Exercise can also reduce inflammation (swelling), which can damage cells if they persist throughout the body, including in the brain.

It can also stimulate the production of growth factors. These are chemicals that affect the health of brain cells and the growth of new blood vessels to give the organ more oxygen.

Exercise also helps people to sleep better and reduces stress and anxiety, which have been shown to all have positive effects on brain power and mental health.

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