Studies have linked aerobic exercise to a “young” brain, one that resists degeneration as we age, even slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. Now, research by a consortium of scientists from ten US medical institutions have found that upping the brain’s supply of certain neurochemicals may produce the same result as pounding out the miles on a treadmill.
Studies have linked exercise to “neurogenesis”, the creation of new brains cells, especially in the hippocampus, the brain’s center of learning and memory. Using mice afflicted with an Alzheimer’s-like condition, researchers gave them a drug that would stimulate the creation of new brain cells. The drug, combined with exercise, helped improve the mice’s mental functions.
A second study repeated the treatment but, instead of exercise, added something called “brain-derived neurotrophic factor”, a protein known to stimulate nerve growth. With the two compounds together, mice with dementia improved as much as mice receiving the one drug while doing time on a running wheel.
The most promising treatments for Alzheimer’s, which some estimate may affect 14 million Americans by 2050, are those that use the body’s own chemicals to dissolve the disease’s signature protein tangles, restoring brain function. Research in Alzheimer’s Disease will shift more strongly in favor of this approach, de-emphasizing the search for safe synthetic drugs.