Why Exercise Protects Your Memory: New Research

Recent research shows that a regular exercise program can help to prevent some of the loss of memory that comes with aging. A part of your brain called the hippocampus is the control station for memories that you store in other parts of the brain. Another brain structure called the prefrontal cortex is the central station that assembles data from other parts of your brain when you want to recall something from your past. Aging causes the brain to shrink and you lose synapses that transmit messages from one nerve to another.

Exercise causes the brain to produce a substance called Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BNDF) that strengthen old synapses and causes new one to grow. Researchers used MRIs of their human subjects to show that an exercise program of an hour a day, four days a week for three months caused new neurons to grow in the hippocampus. Several previous studies showed that exercise enlarges the hippocampus in rats and doubles or even triples the rate of the formation of new nerves. However, one way that rats differ from humans is that most of them like to run and need no encouragement to spend several hours a day on a treadmill.

There is also emerging evidence that physical activity may be protective against neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, Parkinson's disease, strokes and spinal cord injuries. If you are not a regular exerciser, check with your doctor and get started. Journal reference; more on preventing memory loss with exercise; more on Alzheimer's


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