Exercise and Activity Promote Brain Health

We know that there are a lot of personal training studio choices. And we notice that many focus on short-term goals. We understand that. But, here at elevate Health & Performance™, our goal is to help clients on their lifelong journey to health.

We’ve always believed the many studies that found a direct correlation between staying active and improved health. Being active helps your health regardless of your age. Recent studies have shown that people’s activity level, not their weight, correlates to a longer life (read the article here).

Now an observational study of hundreds of older people in Chicago shows that:

 “Staying physically active as we age substantially drops our risk of developing dementia during our lifetimes, and it doesn’t require prolonged exercise. Walking or moving about, rather than sitting, may be all it takes to help bolster the brain.” The NY Times 12/1/21

Prior research proved that mild exercise added volume to the hippocampus where memories are stored. Just walking an hour or so a day reversed shrinkage in the hippocampus. Active people of every age do better on memory tests. And they’re less likely to develop dementia.

Before the Chicago study (reported in the Journal of Neuroscience and summarized in the NY Times), new research found that specialized cells, called microglia, monitor the brain for signs of declining neuronal health. When they sense the brain malfunctioning, the microglia set off an inflammatory action. This activity helps to clear out problem cells and keep the brain healthy.

A problem with aging adults is that the microglia don’t turn off the inflammation. This hyperactivity starts to kill healthy cells leading to memory and learning problems. Studies with rats found that aging rats who exercised had much lower levels of microglial activity. This reduction helped keep the brains healthy. And the exercising mice had lower levels of dementia.

So, the Chicago study included hundreds of people, mostly in their 80’s. They took annual thinking and memory tests. And they wore activity monitors for a week or more. Few participants actively exercised, but there was a wide range of movement.

Naturally, participants died, and the scientists at Rush University Medical Center were able to study brain tissues from 167 participants. First, they looked to see if peoples’ microglia had been hyper-active for a long time. Or if the microglia had been able to moderate brain inflammation. Then they looked for common markers for Alzheimer’s diseases, notably plaque and neural tangles.

It didn’t surprise our personal training studio team that the participants associated with more exercise had more healthy microglia in the parts of the brain linked with memory.

What surprised them was that many of the exerciser’s brains had the markers for Alzheimer’s but had healthy microglia. These people’s brains “looked like” they had dementia. But in fact, most of them had lived normal lives without memory or thinking challenges. As the authors of the study noted:

“Physical activity may delay or alter memory loss from Alzheimer’s in older people, partly by keeping the microglia fit.”

And they noted that there was a linear correlation between how active participants were, and their brain health.

Of course, microglia activity isn’t the only part of the brain affected by movement. But for our personal training studio team, it’s another reminder to value the benefits of lifelong exercise.

Our personal training studio team often advises: keep moving. So, keep moving.

As always, we’re here to help improve your health. Contact us here.