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How Aerobic Exercise Can Protect the Aging Brain

By Michael Cole

As our brains age, the risks of developing diseases such as Alzheimer's increase. This is because, as we grow older, not only do our neurons change, but the blood supply to the brain also decreases. 

In the Lab

One way to keep the blood pumping back up into the head is aerobic exercise. While the effectiveness of aerobic exercise in managing age-related cognitive decline and motor-skill reduction has been established in the past, it has never been studied closely in the context of Alzheimer's. To do so, the study was designed to look at the brains of mice who were given running wheels on which they ran about two miles per night. It was noted that older mice who were active like this improved their ability and motivation levels to perform actions usually associated with younger mice, before age-related brain decline symptoms develop. Cognitive decline bio-markers, like the loss of certain cells known as pericytes, were shown to decrease when aerobic exercise levels went up. 

Alzheimer’s disease has been associated by many studies with decreased performance of blood flow throughout the body. This tells researchers that age-related cognitive decline is closely linked to a breakdown of the blood brain barrier. They theorize that as blood pressure inside the head reduces, the blood brain barrier becomes permeable to substances that cause damage to the brain.

What it Means

The takeaway from this research is that maintaining an active lifestyle in later years is crucial to maintaining cognitive health. As things are now, many people easily fall into the trap of living a sedentary existence wherein passive forms of entertainment supplied by television, the internet, and other media, take the place of time spent working the body. The scientists behind the study caution that an effort to include enough physical activity should be a part of every aging person’s lifestyle.

As the numbers of older adults grows in America due to the baby boomer generation moving into their 70s, cognitive decline threatens to become a national epidemic. The strain this could put on an already overburdened health care system could be disastrous. For this reason it's important that individuals take their cognitive health into their own hands by developing a routine habit of aerobic exercise.

Aerobic exercise can be low impact and steady as opposed to high impact with bursts of activity. The slow and steady approach is best for older people who can enjoy inclined walking on a treadmill for about an hour a day.

To learn more about your health and wellness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Hillsboro, Ore.


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