The number-one way to protect your brain -- to slow and REVERSE the mental decline associated with aging -- is to get your blood pumping with a regular aerobic-exercise routine. But, don't take my word for it; check out this latest brain-exercise-connection research yourself.
Before trotting off to the library archives or googling your afternoon away, however, take a look at this lace-up-the-gym-shoes-get-to-the-gym-right-now amazing, up-to-the-minute research.
In 1990 (well, not quite up-to-the-minute, but close enough), scientists got the brilliant idea of sprinkling BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) on some neurons resting comfortably in a Petri dish. This caused these cells to stir and sprout branches (dendrites) automatically -- a process that occurs in your brain when you are learning something, for example. What does this fertilizer for the brain have to do with your needing to lace up your tennies, you ask. How about this?
Carl Cotman, director of the Institute For Brain Aging and Dementia, in the mid-1990s, decided to see if exercising increases the release of BDNF in the brain. The techniques for studying the brain were such at the time that human subjects were reticent to volunteer for such research, so Cotman rounded up some rodents who were willing to run two or three miles each night on a running wheel. When he and his associates checked the brains of these 4-legged volunteer athletes, they found that BDNF had increased significantly in the hippocampus -- the learning/memory area in the brain, which also is one of only two regions where neurogenesis (the birth of new brain cells) takes place. AND, the more miles the mice put in, the greater the quantity of BDNF produced.
However, as you know, mice are mice, and people are people; therefore, let's look at a human study from the more than 5400 papers published on BDNF. German researchers in 2007 found that volunteers learned vocabulary words 20% faster after a single aerobic exercise session AND the rate of learning correlated directly with their levels of BDNF.
There is other research substantiating the benefits of aerobic exercise for your brain. In 2006, Arthur Kramer and associates at the University of Illinois put 59 adults, ages 60 to 79, on an exercise regimen consisting of "brisk walking" three times a week (45 minutes to an hour per session). After just three months, MRIs showed increased brain volume in the gray matter (actual brain cells) and the white matter (cell connections). Kramer told the Wall Street Journal, "After only 3 months the people who exercised had the brain volumes of people 3 years younger."
Out of Columbia University we have a 2007 study where adult subjects were put on a four-times-a-week, 45-minutes-a-session exercise program. After just 12 weeks, blood-flow to the hippocampus (site of neurogenesis and memory) had doubled and MRIs showed a 30% increase in capillaries in the hippocampus, too. Also, the subjects' VO2 max (ability to process oxygen) increased significantly and interestingly, those with the greatest increase in VO2 max had the highest scores in subsequent tests of memory.
And that's not all by a long shot. We haven't even touched on the neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine) and the growth factors (IGF-1, VEGF and FGF-2) and how they are crucial to neurogenesis and plasticity in the brain AND ARE ALL RELEASED DURING AEROBIC EXERCISE.
I'm sure you don't need any more proof to know that it's time to lace up those sneakers and take a...
Ed Mayhew, speaker and author of Fitter For Life and Fitter After 50.