There is no question that exercise is good for the body, and there is increasing evidence that exercise can help slow down the normal decline in brain function associated with aging. Health groups recommend that adults try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense activity per week to keep their hearts healthy – but is that the same amount needed to keep the brain sharp?
In a new study published in the Journal Neurology researchers led by Joyce Gomes-Osman, an assistant professor of physical therapy and neurology at the Miller School of Medicine in Miami, set out in search of one Exercise recipe for the brain. She and her colleagues scanned nearly 1
"I do not think 52 hours are really a magic number," says Gomes-Osman. "There are really a number, but I think these results signal us to get the well-known benefits of exercise for the brain to support areas involved in thinking and problem-solving – to get machines moving , you need a longer exposure [to exercise] .These are all mechanistic processes that take time to develop. "
The study participants showed the strongest improvement in their ability to solve problems and process information. In memory tests, the effect was not so robust, but Gomes-Osman notes that most complex brain functions, from argumentation through processing speed to retrieval, are related. "There is overlap between the ability to manage time, pay attention, and [do] memory tasks," she says. In future studies, she hopes for a few who appear to be the most sensitive to the effects of exercise.
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What Surprised Researchers Was The only strong correlation between training and brain function came from looking at the total time people were physically active , They found no associations between improvements in thinking and the frequency, intensity, or length of time people exercised. "I had a mindset [going into the study] that the weekly training minutes were definitely helpful, as we know that this is important for the physical health guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association," says Gomes-Osman. "But I was surprised to see that was not the case."
This could further support the idea that the overall and cumulative effects of physical activity are important to brain health. This suggests that exercise affects the brain in a variety of ways, from conserving the brain's neural network, which decreases with age, to enhancing the function of neurons and improving blood flow to brain cells, as well as promoting the production of growth factors Helping Cells Involved in High-Level Thought Problems
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"These results help us to get a little more practical advice" says Gomes- Osman. For them, the search for a training recipe for a healthy brain is personal. Her grandfather died of Alzheimer's disease, and she is aware that her family has some genetic susceptibility to the development of neurodegenerative disease. "What could I have told my grandfather about sports?" She says. "And when could I have done it?"
The current study involved various types of exercises: aerobics (which is supported by most research on its relationship to the brain), strength training, and body-mind activities such as Tai Chi. She hopes to learn more about which types of exercises seem to have the greatest benefit to the brain and how this movement should be distributed in minutes, hours, and days. This information could someday help people avoid cognitive decline and even help ward off some of the brain problems associated with more severe degenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's.
"Sport is really a really great thing for the brain," she says. "We have to learn more because at this moment we have nothing better to combat cognitive decline."