What you need to know about the neuroprotective effects of exercise

comeStarting any kind of new routine can feel overwhelming at first. There are things that can help make it easier, though, including finding joy in what you’re doing, stacking new habits with old ones you’re already doing consistently, and, perhaps best of all, starting slow and small.

This last one is especially helpful if you’re trying to exercise after being inactive. It’s a common misconception that you have to work a lot For this to be beneficial, when in reality, it really depends on your goals. Yes, if you want to run an ultramarathon, you have to put in the miles. But if keeping your brain healthy is a major motivation for moving, new research into the neuroprotective effects of exercise suggests that even small amounts of physical activity may help protect against cognitive decline.

The study results come from the German Center of Neurodegenerative Diseases where researchers examined the brain volumes of 2,550 people between the ages of 30 and 94 and determined that certain areas of the brain, including the hippocampus (AKA the control center for memory), were larger. who exercised. “Larger brain volumes provide better protection against neurodegeneration than smaller ones,” says Fabien Fox, PhD, neuroscientist and lead author of the current study. Science Daily.

The researchers found the biggest barriers to brain volume in inactive people and those who were moderately active, meaning something Physical activity may have significant neuroprotective effects versus none. These benefits aren’t as pronounced in people who are already quite active and have increased their exercise volume—meaning if you’re already an active person, more movement isn’t necessary to move the needle.

“We understand this intuitively,” says Barry Gordon, MD, PhD, professor of neurology and director of the Division of Cognitive Neurology/Neuropsychology at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “If someone runs the length of Central Park several times a day, then adds one more length of Central Park, they won’t get the same increased benefit as someone who never starts moving and then walks the length of Central Park.”

Not that they have to go that far to see a brain gain. “The results of our study indicate that even small behavioral changes, such as walking 15 minutes per day, can have a substantial positive effect on the brain and potentially prevent age-related loss of brain matter and the development of neurodegenerative diseases,” said Dr. Fox said Science Daily. Here, indicate the operative word.

What scientists understand—and don’t understand—about exercise and brain health

When I spoke with Dr. Gordon about the research findings, he emphasized that it is important for people to understand the difference between correlation and causation. So for example, with this study, they determined that there was a link between larger brain volume and people who exercised, but they didn’t prove that exercise alone makes people’s brains bigger.

Generally speaking, scientists think it’s plausible that exercise protects the brain from neurodegeneration, but they don’t have any proof—or even a clear idea. how, right, it works. Arjun V., clinical core director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at NYU Langone. “The relationship between sedentary lifestyle and neurodegeneration is still unclear,” says Masurkar, MD, PhD.

That’s at least partly because it will take decades to test the neuroprotective effects of exercise, according to Dr. Gordon. “Because of how long it takes for neurodegeneration to take effect,” he says (which is why he recommends taking steps to improve brain health in your 30s and 40s—before or after you’re likely to start seeing symptoms in your 60s). “And people don’t want to subject themselves to the kind of studies that would be necessary to find evidence, or most of these studies aren’t very practical.”

These new findings, however, help confirm what neurologists already believe: “Research suggests that exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, increases blood flow to the brain and stimulates biochemical pathways that maintain functional and structural integrity. of neurons, Dr. Masurkar said. “It has been shown that regular exercise can maintain or increase brain size. Although exactly how this happens is not known, some research suggests that aerobic exercise can release growth factors that can potentially increase brain volume.”

It’s a helpful way to think, Dr. According to Gordon, exercise is like SPF for your brain. “We all know that as skin ages, it shows signs of aging,” he says. “But it’s also known that the sun causes additional damage. So you see someone who’s older and goes out in the sun a lot without sunscreen; they have more damage than someone who has the same genetic background, the same age, but stays out in the sun religiously, or Wear, you know, 400 levels of SPF.”

The same could potentially be said for someone who is older and regularly physically active versus someone who hasn’t during cognitive decline. “You can think of Alzheimer’s disease, for example, as a combination of aging-related changes that you can’t currently control, as well as damage-related changes that you may be able to control,” says Dr. Gordon.

Simple movement swaps to start building now for better brain function in the future

There is now a strong enough connection between brain health and exercise—and enough research to support it—that neurologists recommend being physically active as a way to protect your brain from neurodegeneration. And, perhaps even more compelling, Dr. Gordon says he does aerobic exercise three times per week for this reason.

But if you don’t have time for exercise in your schedule, below, she and Dr. Masurkar share some easy ways to get more movement into your daily life in the name of improving your brain health. “Because people are so busy and exercise-averse, an easy way is to make an existing daily activity more active,” says Dr. Masurkar. To that end, here are simple tweaks to start making today.

Swap d

Instead of taking the bus or riding a bike to run local errands.

Swap 2

Get up for a short walking break every 30 minutes while you sit at your computer.

Swap 3

Choose the stairs instead of the elevator.

Swap 4

Instead of looking for a nearby spot, park away from the spots so you have a little more time to walk.

Swap 5

Take long phone calls while walking or riding an exercise bike instead of sitting at your desk.

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