Physical exercise is good for you. Working up a sweat has been shown to improve almost every organ in the body, fight almost every disease that doctors diagnose, and improve almost every health condition you live with on a daily basis.
And what’s even better. A new study has found that exercise increases levels of a protein known to strengthen communication between brain cells through synapses, which could be a key factor in keeping dementia at bay.
This protective effect was even found in active elderly people whose brains showed signs of plaques, tangles and other features of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive disorders.
“Synapses are the critical communication junctions between nerve cells, they are where the magic really happens when it comes to cognition,” study author Kaitlin Casaletto, assistant professor of neurology at the University’s Center for Memory and Aging, said in an email. of California in San Francisco.
“All our thinking and memory occurs as a result of these synaptic communications,” he added.
Previous studies have shown that physical activity can reduce the risk of dementia by between 30% and 80%, “but we don’t understand how this happens on a biological level in humans,” Casaletto explained.
“We describe, for the first time in humans, that synaptic functioning may be a pathway by which physical activity promotes brain health,” she said, adding that the study can only show an association, not necessarily cause and effect.
Still, Casaletto added, “I think these findings are beginning to support the dynamic nature of the brain in response to our activities, and the ability of the aging brain to mount healthy responses to activity even at older ages.”
Protein regulation is key
A well-functioning brain keeps electrical signals moving smoothly across synapses from neuron to neuron and to other cells in the body. To do this, the brain has to constantly replace worn-out proteins in these synapses, while also ensuring they are properly balanced and regulated.
“There are many proteins present in the synapse that help facilitate different aspects of cell-to-cell communication. These proteins need to be in balance with each other for the synapse to function optimally,” Casaletto wrote.
It’s all part of how the brain reshapes its neural circuits, keeping them healthy.
Studies in autopsied mice have long shown the protective effect exercise has on the brain, but establishing that link in humans has been difficult.
In this new study, published last Friday in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, researchers were able to study human brains. They analyzed protein levels in people who donated their brains to science as part of the Memory and Aging Project at Rush University in Chicago. On average, the people who were studied were between 70 and 80 years old, Casaletto said.
As part of this project, end-of-life physical activity of elderly participants was also tracked. The results showed that people who moved more had more protective proteins.
“The more physical activity, the higher the levels of synaptic proteins in the brain tissue. This suggests that every move counts when it comes to brain health,” Casaletto said.
“We recommend focusing on 150 min/week of physical activity. Previous studies have shown that even walking is related to reduced risk of cognitive decline!” she added via email.
And it appears to work regardless of whether a person already has signs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, he added.
“Several previous studies consistently show […] that higher levels of these same synaptic proteins in brain tissue are associated with better cognitive performance, independent of plaques and tangles,” she wrote.
“These data reinforce the importance of incorporating regular physical activity into our everyday lives – no matter how young or old we are,” said Heather Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association, which partially funded the study.
“It is important to find an exercise that you enjoy so that it is sustainable in your routine. For older adults, it’s important to discuss any new physical activity with your doctor to make sure it’s safe to do so,” added Snyder, who was not involved in the study.
how to move
Want to start exercising but don’t know how? We asked CNN fitness contributor Dana Santas for top tips on how to add more exercise to your life.
Don’t try to do everything at first. You’re only going to hurt yourself and get in the way of your motivation, said Santas, who is a mind and body coach for professional athletes. Instead, start with breathing and movement exercises designed to reconnect your mind and body. So, start walking! Try to build up a moderate to fast pace.
“Start by just walking five to 10 minutes daily for the first few days while you figure out the best time and place for your walks,” Santas said. “Once you’ve determined the logistics, start adding a few extra minutes to each walk. Ideally, you should do about 20 to 30 minutes of walking a day.”
If you want to add weight training, she said, you can follow along by watching this video.
Just as important as adding movement to your life is making it a habit, advises Santas.
“Take steps to make it sustainable so that it becomes part of your lifestyle, and that you enjoy it and be proud of, rather than seeing it negatively, as a chore,” Santas said.
She suggests “habit stacking,” or doing a simple exercise before, after, or during a normal daily task like making your bed, showering, and brushing your teeth.
“For almost eight years now, I’ve been doing 50 bodyweight squats or two minutes leaning against the wall while brushing my teeth,” Santas told CNN.
Adding movement to everyday tasks can add up quickly. Let’s say you got up and exercised three times an hour during your workday.
“It’s 24 minutes of daily exercise. Add another 10 minutes of walking or climbing stairs before or after work, and you have 34 minutes a day, or 170 minutes a five-day work week,” Santas said.
“That’s well above the weekly limit of 150 minutes, or two and a half hours, recommended by the World Health Organization – without ever stepping foot in a gym.”
This content was originally created in English.
Reference: CNN Brasil