Exercise May Prevent Cognitive Decline

Great news for exercise buffs – recent research conducted at the University of Queensland indicates that there might be a link between regular running and an increase in neural stem cells. It adds a whole new reason to start running; not just for cardiovascular fitness, but for brain health. It’s a fascinating and encouraging study.

Researchers at the University of Queensland’s Brain Institute recently revealed the results of a study that potentially shows that regular running may encourage the growth of neural stem cells in humans, meaning that physical exercise may be a key factor in combating degenerative brain diseases.

Neural stem cells are biological cells that divide through mitosis into diverse and more specialized cell types, and can self-renew to produce more stem cells. These neural stem cells act as a kind of repair system for the brain, replenishing nerve cells and neurons. The increase in the number of neural stem cells produced as a result of physical exercise (namely running) means that the cognitive decline normally associated with age can be halted and even reversed.

It is still unclear whether other forms of vigorous exercise other than running leads to the same increase in stem cell growth, as the study was only done on running animals, but the results are still extremely positive in the long-standing battle to combat neurodegenerative diseases.

Queensland Brain Institute scientist Dr Daniel Blackmore said of the findings, “We have found that Growth Hormone (GH) originally discovered as a potent stimulator of animal growth is increased in the brain of running animals and this stimulates the activation of new neural stem cells”.

The study was carried out in older mice, which show the same cognitive decline as humans.

“In this model of ageing we found that the number of active neural stem cells dramatically declines with age, but exercise dramatically reversed this, increasing stem cell numbers,” Professor Perry Bartlett, the Director of QBI, and team leader, said.

“If we blocked the action of GH in the brains of these running animals, however, no such increase occurred, indicating GH was the primary regulator of this process. We are currently determining whether this GH–dependent increase in stem cell activity is able to reverse the cognitive decline seen in old animals by increasing production of new nerve cells.”

So, while the results are not definitive, it looks promising indeed – stay tuned for further updates as this fascinating research continues.

If you’re a regular exerciser already, not that you needed a reason to keep exercising, but you can be smug in the fact you may be assuring your brain’s health well into your later years.

If you’re not, what further reason do you need to get on the treadmill or the pavement and start moving?

Source: The University of Queensland

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