As we age, the protein that is vital for growing new healthy neurons and maintaining existing ones becomes scarcer.
This protein is BDNF – brain-derived neurotrophic factor. BDNF contributes to neuroplasticity so the brain can create new connections and reorganise existing ones. BDNF is needed for learning and for storing long-term memories.
Aerobic exercise has been shown to boost BDNF levels and other key brain building factors.
One study placed 49 older sedentary women into a 16-week exercise program combining aerobic, resistance and motor exercises and compared them to a control group. The women who exercised twice weekly showed higher levels of serum BDNF.
After the study they were more verbally fluent, faster at processing information, more attentive and able to switch between different mental activities with more ease than their peers. Another study with 165 healthy seniors showed those who were fitter had higher hippocampal volumes.
Generally healthy seniors can expect to lose 1-2 per cent of their hippocampus mass each year.
This study found the fitter individuals performed better on spatial memory tasks than their less fit peers.
You may be thinking, “It’s too late for me. I’m not the exercising type.” Well, think again.
A 12-month study took 90 older adults through an aerobics program. The results were that the older the participant was, the more benefit they had.
This was seen in their BDNF levels and in their cognitive tests.
Exercise also helps prevent brain inflammation. As you age, inflammation tends to increase. One measure of inflammation is the C-reactive protein levels in your blood. CRP is made by the liver and secreted into the blood in response to inflammation.
A longitudinal study of more than 3000 older adults who were in good health concluded that those with the highest concentrations of CRP along with interleukin IL-6 had an astounding 24 per cent higher risk of developing cognitive impairment.
More than 13 well-structured studies showed healthy adults who undertook an aerobic exercise program and resistance training had less inflammation. Once again, older adults showed the most improvement.
I hope this dip into science helps you stay active over winter. Tristan Hall is an exercise physiologist with Full Circle Wellness. Call 0431 192 284 or visit fullcirclewellness.com.au