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New study shows how running affects the aging brain

Recent research shows how exercise can help you maintain your memory function as you age

thinking brain

Running is not only great for your physical health, but your mental and cognitive health as well. Regular exercise is necessary if you want to keep your brain healthy as you age, and new research from Florida Atlantic University explains exactly how it helps you maintain memory function as you get older.

For years, general cognitive decline and memory loss were regarded as an unavoidable part of the aging process. Thankfully in the last decade, research has shown that adult neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells) is possible. The best way to ensure this happens? Regular exercise. A study published earlier this year in the journal eNeuro demonstrated that long-term exercise increases the survival of adult-born neurons and modifies their network so they can continue participating in cognitive processes. In other words, the neurons you generated as an adult will continue to function effectively.

Brain illustraion

Running and the aging brain

The hippocampus and surrounding parts of the brain, which are responsible for learning and memory, are typically the first parts of your brain to start declining as you age. According to the researchers, running has been shown to increase the number of adult-born neurons in the hippocampuses of rodents, but they didn’t know if these new neurons remained integrated into the hippocampal network over the long term.

To find out, they tagged adult-born neurons in the brains of young adult mice, then came back to them after a six-month running regime (when the mice were middle-aged) to determine whether the neurons born in early adulthood remained integrated into the neural networks (i.e., whether they were still functioning effectively). The results showed that these old “new” neurons were still there, and still functioning.

running brain

Long-term exercise profoundly benefits the aging brain and may prevent aging-related memory function decline by increasing the survival and modifying the network of the adult-born neurons born during early adulthood, and thereby facilitating their participation in cognitive processes,” said Henriette van Praag, one of the authors of the study.

The takeaways

Our brains are complex, mysterious organs, and there is still a lot we don’t know about how they function and how to keep them functioning well. This study is yet another reminder of the importance of regular exercise performed over a lifetime, and how that can impact your cognitive health. Runners, it seems, are a step ahead of the rest in terms of preventing cognitive decline, so if you needed a dose of motivation to get out the door today, perhaps that’ll do it.

Thinking yourself to faster times

“Our study provides insight as to how chronic exercise, beginning in young adulthood and continuing throughout middle age, helps maintain memory function during aging, emphasizing the relevance of including exercise in our daily lives,” said Carmen Vivar, a co-author of the study. 


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