(Science Times); (Phys Ed)
Exercise can change the way crucial portions of our brain communicate as we age, as it improves some aspects of reasoning and memory, according to a fascinating new study on the aging brain and aerobic exercise. The research, which was conducted with elderly African Americans, reveals that when exercised regularly, disconnected portions of the brain’s memory center begin to interact in new, complex and healthier ways, which exacerbates the operation of memory.
These findings broaden our understanding of how movement shapes reasoning and also highlight the importance of staying active, regardless of our age.
The idea that physical activity improves brain health is well-founded. Some experiments with animals and people show that exercise increases the amount of neurons in the hippocampus, which is essential for creating and storing memories, and also improves reasoning skills. In the case of the elderly, regular physical activity helps to slow down the usual loss of brain volume, which could help prevent age-related memory loss and perhaps reduce the risk of dementia.
There are also indications that exercise can alter how far-flung parts of the brain communicate with each other. In a 2016 study with MRI images, for example, researchers found that disparate parts of the brain lit up at the same time in running college students, while in sedentary students this was not so common. . This coordinated brain activity is believed to be a form of communication that allows various parts of the brain to collaborate and improve reasoning skills even if they do not share a physical connection. In runners, synchronized portions were related to attention, decision-making, and working or operational memory, indicating that running and exercising may have helped sharpen your mind.
However, these students were young and healthy, so they faced a less imminent threat of memory loss. Little was known about whether exercise could alter the communication systems of large and weaker brains, how it did so, and what the effects of this reconfiguration were on reasoning, if any.
Therefore, in the new study, which was published in January in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, Mark Gluck, a professor of neuroscience at New Jersey State University, and his colleagues decided to analyze what was happening at the ‘inside the brains and minds of much older people if they started exercising.
In particular, Gluck wondered how his medial temporal lobes would react. This part of the brain contains the hippocampus and is the core of our memory center. Unfortunately, its internal functioning usually begins to decay with age, resulting in failures in reasoning and memory. But Gluck suspected the exercise could alter that trajectory.
Luckily, as director of the Aging & Brain Health Alliance at the university, Gluck was already in charge of an ongoing exercise-related experiment. With the collaboration of local churches and community centers, he and his collaborators had already recruited elderly and sedentary African American men and women from the Newark, New Jersey area. Volunteers, most over 60, went to Gluck’s lab for a health and fitness check-up, as well as cognitive tests. A few also agreed that their brain activity will be scanned.
Then some started exercising, while others decided to be part of the sedentary control group. At first, they all shared a similar level of fitness and memory functioning. The group that started exercising took one-hour aerobic dance classes twice a week in a church or community center for 20 weeks.
Gluck and his research partner Neha Sinha, along with other colleagues, then asked 34 of the volunteers who had initially undergone brain scans to perform another one. Seventeen of them had exercised during this time; the rest do not. These groups also repeated the cognitive tests.
The scientists compared the profiles and immediately noticed subtle differences in the way the brains of the participants who operated operated. Their scans showed more synchronized activity in their medial temporal lobes compared to the sedentary group, and this activity was more dynamic. Certain areas of the lobes of those who exercised were illuminated together and then, in a matter of seconds, realigned and illuminated at the same time as other sections of the lobe. This indiscriminate timing indicates a kind of youthful flexibility in the brain, Gluck says, as if the circuits exchanged dancing pairs loosely at a party. The brains of those who exercised “reorganized their connections flexibly,” he explains, in a way that they were unable to reproduce the brains of the sedentary group.
Equally important is the fact that these changes were manifested in the reasoning and memory of the participants. Those who exercised scored better than before on a test that assessed their ability to learn and retain information and apply it logically in new situations. This type of agile reasoning involves the medial temporal lobe, Gluck says, and usually deteriorates with age. However, the older participants who exercised performed better than at the beginning and those brains showed the most new interconnections at that time surpassed the rest.
However, this research was conducted with elderly African Americans, a group that is underrepresented in health research, but which may not reflect the reality of all older people. However, “it seems that the neural flexibility” that is acquired in the VOS a few times a week “leads directly to memory flexibility,” Gluck concludes.