Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions. It is the most common cause of dementia - loss of thinking, remembering and reasoning. There are more than 3 million reported cases per year in the U.S. alone. There is no cure; the disorder is irreversible. We all know that exercise is great for improving physical health, but more research has linked exercise to brain health.
Scientists claim that evidence shows exercise prevents the brain from shrinking, increases cognitive abilities and the ability to grow new brain cells. Brain volume is a factor of the age of the brain. Atrophy of the brain is related to cognitive decline and an increased risk for dementia. A recent study published findings that low levels of exercise in midlife led to lower brain volume later in life.
Exercise is a modifiable factor, one that you can control to improve your brain health. But how does exercise help your brain? Exercise improves brain function by increasing blood flow to your brain, increasing production of nerve-protecting compounds as well as the development and survival of neurons and reducing plaques in your brain.
In the Framingham Heart Study, during a period of 20 years, 1,500 individuals free of dementia and heart disease were analyzed taking a treadmill test. Their exercise capacity was measured by seeing how long they could run before their target heart rate was reached. In the end, results showed that lower levels of fitness correlated with smaller brain volume.
While it was previously thought that brain deterioration and memory loss was inevitable, evidence now shows that the brain is capable of rejuvenating itself throughout life. Research shows that exercise produces large cognitive gains, improving memory and fighting dementia. A study of 600 seniors over the age of 70 found that those who engaged in the most exercise had the least amount of brain shrinkage in a three-year period.
But it isn't just the exercise that is important. It is your daily lifestyle, the non-exercise movements, that also affect your brain function. Research has shown that 6 hours of uninterrupted sitting counteracts the positive health benefits of one hour of exercise. So if you have a desk job where you sit a lot, be sure to take frequent breaks to stand up and walk around.
If you are unable to participate in aerobic-type activity, research shows that resistance training has the same benefits on brain health. In general, any type of physical activity can positively influence the brain's ability to think and learn, and it also boosts memory. When you exercise, various hormones are released including growth factors and proteins that support the brain. So be sure to stay active throughout your days. Every step you take, even just walking, can help.
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