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A Guide from the National Institute on Aging
Training Boon for Aging Women
Determines that Individuals Who Stop Exercising Lose Long-Term
We know that exercise can help us feel young and stay healthy. But neuroscientists
say it can help us stay mentally young as well.
As this ScienCentral news video reports, scientific evidence shows thatâ€™s
especially true for older women.
Exercise Fuels Your Brain
If you think itâ€™s too late to start getting benefits from exercising,
think again. Studies reveal that even if you start exercising late in life,
your brain may gain.
Loss of brain cells is a natural part of the aging process. “Starting
at around age 30, the human brain begins to lose tissue,” says
Colcombe, a neuroscience fellow at the Beckman
Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign. “It loses at the rate of roughly five to ten percent
per decade.” This loss of brain volume affects many brain functions,
including judgment, understanding, and decision making.
But exercise has been found to increase not only blood flow but also the production
of certain neurochemicals that improve brain function in older adults. In
fact, as reported in the March issue of Psychological
Science, seniors actually gain more from exercise than younger adults
“They have gone further down the hill,” explains Colcombe. “So
they have much more of the hill they can climb back up. Thatâ€™s why they
show the greatest benefit.”
Colcombe and Arthur
Kramer, a professor of psychology and member of the Beckham Institute,
analyzed data from 18 different studies on exercise and brain function conducted
over the past 35 years. They found that older adults gained more in mental
performance from exercise than younger adults. Kramer says that exercise increases
the production of a brain molecule called brain derived neurotrophic factor
(BDNF), which Kramer says “protects” brain cells. “It also
increases the number of brain cells that are created,” he says, “that
presumably participate in various aspects of cognition.”
So how much exercise is enough?
According to Colcombe, “You donâ€™t have to exercise all that much
to prove cognitive benefits from exercise.” He says that just 10-15
minutes a day, three times a week would suffice. The researchers also found
that older women benefit more from increased physical activity as they age—in
terms of brain function—than do men. The reason for that appears to be hormonal.
Women have more estrogen in their bodies than men, and estrogen appears to
be connected to both exercise and brain function. “We know from animal
literature,” explains Kramer, “that estrogen tends to promote
a number of aspects of memory and cognitive function.”
Additionally, previous animal studies focused on mice whose ovaries had been
removed. Researchers noted a decline in exercise and a drop in production
of BDNF. When the mice were put back on estrogen, BDNF production increased
and so did exercise activity. The data showed a similar trend in women, especially
post-menopausal women on estrogen-replacement therapy, who benefited more
than women not taking the hormone.
So Kramer thinks that the combination of estrogen and exercise seems to be
helping women more. According to Kramer, “Itâ€™s possible that one
is triggering the other and that the two of them are additive or multiplicative
in terms of their effects” on brain structure and function.
The studies were funded by the National
Institute on Aging (National Institutes of Health).