Exercise is often recommended for seniors as a way to fight off dementia and memory loss, but it has never been fully understood the reasons behind the benefits. However, a new study published by the Alzheimer’s Association may shed some light on the connection between physical activity and better memory.
The study – published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia – included the post-mortem examination of more than 400 brains and found more presynaptic proteins in the brains of people who got more physical activity later in life. The participants, who were part of the larger Rush Memory and Aging Project, were monitored for exercise in old age.
The research notes a large body of previous research on animals, showing exercise improves cognitive function in rodents, but the new study breaks new ground by providing a neurobiological link between exercise and improved cognition in humans. The higher level of presynaptic proteins in people who exercise more is an indicator of higher cognitive function.
“Synaptic functioning is an appealing therapeutic target given its proximity to cognition,” wrote the study authors. “Regardless of pathology presence, cognition cannot occur without integrity of the synaptic unit.”
CNN reports the study’s corresponding author, Kaitlin Casaletto, PhD, said while the research established a correlation between exercise and the higher protein levels, it could not conclusively show cause and effect.
“The more physical activity, the higher the synaptic protein levels in brain tissue,” Casaletto said. “This suggests that every movement counts when it comes to brain health.”
She elaborated by mentioning prior research that indicated simply walking could be effective exercise to see the benefits, and recommended around 150 minutes of exercise per week, or just over 20 minutes per day.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates the number of American seniors living with dementia is in the millions and growing, possibly hitting 14 million in the next 40 years. The newly published research also notes that inactivity alone could account for more than four million cases of dementia.