Forgetfulness, fuzzy thinking and mental fatigue are all signs that age can, unfortunately, take its toll on our brains. While such symptoms don't necessarily indicate a diagnosis of dementia, memory loss is still worrisome for many. And even more disconcerting is research showing infection or injury may accelerate cognitive decline.
Now, new findings published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggest even small amounts of regular physical activity can stave off memory loss that sometimes follows surgery, illness or injury in old age.
In a University of Colorado Boulder study study involving rats, researchers divided the animals into different groups and allowed one group free use of an exercise wheel while the others' had their wheels immobilized. Rats were then infected with E. coli and, after their recovery, administered tests to evaluate their cognitive abilities. Results showed older rats that ran just over half a kilometer each week were better protected against infection-induced memory loss.
In a release, study co-author Ruth Barrientos, PhD, discussed why the findings are significant from a public health perspective:
Strikingly, this small amount of running was sufficient to confer robust benefits for those that ran over those that did not run. This is an important finding because those of advanced age are more vulnerable to memory impairments following immune challenges such as bacterial infections or surgery. With baby boomers currently at retirement age, the risk of diminished memory function in this population is of great concern. Thus, effective noninvasive therapies are of substantial clinical value.
The research adds to a growing body of evidence showing the benefits of exercise on the brain.
Previously: Exercise may lower women’s risk of dementia later in life, Power walking plus “Plants vs. Zombies” may help protect against memory loss, Stanford biostatistician talks about saving your aging brain and Studying ways to combat mental decline in aging
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