Exercise can improve brain performance

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Dementia study: Those who exercise regularly can prevent memory loss and increase their brain volume

A few but regularly carried out training units are sufficient to enlarge special areas in the brain that are responsible for mental memory. According to a recently published study by the University of Pittsburgh, sport can make a significant contribution to significantly improving memory performance. Older patients in particular can counteract an increasing loss of memory if they exercise regularly.

Regular training increases brain volume
Regular training can enlarge the brain and effectively increase performance. In the science magazine "PNAS", the researchers report that this could benefit the elderly in particular, in order to prevent aging diseases such as dementia and diabetes. The active movement primarily stimulates the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is largely responsible for memory. The hippocampus is part of the middle arch of the Limbian system. This area shrinks steadily with advancing age. The volume decreases by about one to two percent from year to year. This results in a relative reduction in the processes of thinking and remembering. The risk of developing dementia increases with age. That very process can slow down and. can even be stopped, as the research team led by Krik Erickson of the "University of Pittsburgh" report. Light but regular exercise can stop the hippocampus weight loss process and increase brain performance.

Study with subjects of older age
In the comparative study, the scientists examined 120 women and men aged 55 to 80 years. Before the start of the study, all participants showed no diagnostic evidence of impending age dementia. Before the study started, the researchers analyzed the brain size of all subjects using magnetic resonance imaging. Afterwards, all study participants were divided into two equally large groups. One study group received an easy-to-implement sports training plan, the second group was supposed to do stretching exercises every day without physical exertion.

In the course of the study, the brain size was measured again after half a year and then again after half a year. The researchers found that those who performed light aerobic exercise regularly showed a relative enlargement of the hippocampus. On average, the area in the brain grew by around two percent after a year of study. In the second group, which only performed stretches, the hippocampus shrank by an average of 1.4 percent. The researchers see it as proven that the brain shrinks by one to two percent annually, while a continuous and regular active movement increases the brain volume.

Messenger protects neurons and creates new synapses
The research results show impressively that it is not too late to start exercising, even at an advanced age. The scientists can initially only speculate about the exact reasons for this. In the blood samples of the first group, the researchers discovered that the levels of the messenger substance BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) increased significantly. BDNF protects existing neurons and promotes the growth of new synapses. In addition, the signal substance apparently plays an important role in promoting memory processes. In the magazine "Proceedings" of the National Academy of Sciences (PNA), the research team called for a daily sports program. The study shows that a lack of exercise promotes the development of diseases. On the other hand, those who exercise regularly and do sports reduce the risk of illness. (sb)

Around 1.2 million people in Germany currently suffer from dementia. Due to the demographic change, researchers suspect that the incidence of the disease will have doubled in 50 years. The findings of the study could also be used to draw up a training plan for those who are already ill to reduce the progression of the disease. However, further studies would have to follow. (sb)

Also read:
More than every third German becomes demented
Dementia and Alzheimer's
Dementia is becoming a widespread disease
Age dementia is on the rise in Germany
Alzheimer's: Vitamin B can prevent dementia
Men are more often affected by memory loss

Image: Dieter Schütz / pixelio.de

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