Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Physical exercise: why aerobic exercise enhances neurogenesis and neuroplasticity

jAs lit­tle as three hours a week of brisk walk­ing has been shown to halt, and even reverse, the brain atro­phy (shrink­age) that starts in a per­son­’s for­ties, espe­cial­ly in the regions respon­si­ble for mem­o­ry and high­er cog­ni­tion. Exer­cise increas­es the brain’s vol­ume of gray mat­ter (actu­al neu­rons) and white mat­ter (con­nec­tions between neu­rons).

Through increased blood flow to the brain, phys­i­cal exer­cise trig­gers bio­chem­i­cal changes that spur neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty – the pro­duc­tion of new con­nec­tions between neu­rons and even of neu­rons them­selves. Brain exer­cise then pro­tects these fledg­ling neu­rons by bathing them in a nerve growth fac­tor and form­ing func­tion­al con­nec­tions with neigh­bor­ing neu­rons. Dr. Gage’s work of the Salk Insti­tute for Bio­log­i­cal Stud­ies, have shown that exer­cise helps gen­er­ate new brain cells, even in the aging brain.

Study­ing this top­ic, Dr. Smeyne of the Saint Jude Chil­dren’s Research Hos­pi­tal in Mem­phis, found that results could be seen in two months in Parkin­son patients. Parkin­son patients demon­strate a pro­gres­sive loss of dopamine neu­rons in the sub­stan­tia nigra pars. After two months of exer­cise, the patients had more brain cells. High­er lev­els of exer­cise were shown to be sig­nif­i­cant­ly more ben­e­fi­cial than low­er amounts, although any exer­cise was bet­ter than none. Smeyne also found that start­ing an exer­cise pro­gram ear­ly in life was an effec­tive way to low­er the risk of devel­op­ing Parkin­son’s dis­ease lat­er in life.

Numer­ous ani­mal stud­ies have shown that phys­i­cal exer­cise has a mul­ti­tude of effects on the brain beyond neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis, includ­ing increas­es in var­i­ous neu­ro­trans­mit­ters and nerve growth fac­tor lev­els, and angio­gen­e­sis (the for­ma­tion of new blood ves­sels).

In 2003, Dr. Col­combe and Kramer, ana­lyzed the results of 18 sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies pub­lished between 2000 and 2001. The results of this meta-analy­sis clear­ly showed that phys­i­cal fit­ness train­ing increas­es cog­ni­tive per­for­mance in healthy adults between the ages of 55 and 80.

Anoth­er meta-analy­sis pub­lished in 2004 by Dr. Heyn and col­leagues shows sim­i­lar ben­e­fi­cial effects of fit­ness train­ing for peo­ple over 65 years old who had cog­ni­tive impair­ment or demen­tia.

What type of exer­cis­es is need­ed?

Accord­ing to Dr. Art Kramer, aer­o­bic exer­cise, at least thir­ty to six­ty min­utes per day, three days a week, has been shown to have a pos­i­tive impact on brain func­tions. Impor­tant­ly, the exer­cise does not have to be stren­u­ous, walk­ing have been shown to have pos­i­tive effects too.

Keep learn­ing by read­ing more arti­cles in the Resources sec­tion, and also please con­sid­er join­ing our free month­ly Brain Fit­ness eNewslet­ter

This new online resource is based on the con­tent from the book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness (May 2009, $19.95), by Alvaro Fer­nan­dez and Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg.

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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