Crossword puzzles and brain-training games may help to slow age-related memory loss, but new findings suggest moving your body may be the best way to protect your brain.

“We definitely have more evidence for exercise,” said Teresa Liu-Ambrose of the University of British Columbia. Liu-Ambrose moderated a panel of scientists who recently presented studies at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.

In a study of rats, those that ran on a treadmill for at least 4 months did better on memory tests as they aged. The rats who ran also had more blood vessels and white matter in their brains than did sedentary rats. The message from Yong Tang of Chongqing Medical Center in China was, “Exercise no matter how old you are.”

Exercise also helped rats reverse the common condition called bradykinesia, a slowing of movement that often comes with age. The condition affects more than half of people who live to be 85 or more, and is responsible for many falls.

With elderly rats, 12 consecutive days of using a treadmill improved their mobility, said Jennifer Arnold of Louisiana State University. The increased mobility may be due to raised dopamine levels, a brain chemical, that is important for movement.

Also, a study from Australia found that exercise relieves depression. Robin Callister of the University of Newcastle reported on a pilot study of young adults who had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. After 12 weeks of exercise many of the participants were no longer considered depressed.

So, why does exercise provide mental benefits? Callister said that it requires the brain to do a lot of work. Even going on a run means the brain is synchronizing complex movements. “I think people underestimate how much brain is involved in physical activity,” she said.

It’s always a good idea to check with your health care provider before taking up or changing an exercise program……. npr shots      11-11-13



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