Gerontologists and sports physicians at Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany have concluded in a new study that not only does regular physical exercise manage weight and maintain the body’s fitness, it also protects the brain and positively impacts its metabolism. The study, which involved 60 participants aged between 65 and 85, aimed to assess movement-related parameters, cognitive performance, and cardiopulmonary fitness. Half of the participants took part in stationary bike exercises as part of a 12-week program, half of them did not.

The training sessions, which lasted for 30 minutes, three times a week, for each participant in the training group, were calibrated in such a way as to adapt to each participant’s performance level. The participants were examined after these sessions so that the researchers could take note of the effects physical activity had on cognitive performance, brain metabolism, and brain structure. Researchers used magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to do so.

The results of the tests were what the researchers had expected: Physical activity directly affected brain metabolism by hindering the increase of choline levels. In the training group, researchers found out that physical exercise resulted in stable cerebral choline concentrations, while in the control group, choline levels increased. Higher levels of choline in the body can lead to an increased loss of nerve cells, which is what happens when someone gets afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.

After the training sessions, the participants in the training group had their cardiac efficiency improved, leading to the conclusion that physical exercise is not only good for the body, but for the mind as well.

The study, titled Sport and Metabolism in Older Persons, was published in the journal Translational Psychiatry. The Gerontology Department of the Institute of General Medicine, which was spearheaded by Professor Johannes Pantel, and the Department of Sports Medicine, which was chaired by Professor Winfried Banzer, conducted the study.

According to a study that was published in the British journal Lancet on Thursday, July 20 by researchers who were led by University College of London psychiatry professor Gill Livingston, among the factors that contribute to cognitive decline include not getting enough education when they were young, being prone to high blood pressure and obesity in middle age, and being sedentary and leading a solitary life during the senior years.

“The number of people with dementia is increasing due to the ageing population with the welcome reduction in premature morbidity. This is happening in all countries,” Livingston said. “We should think about prevention in childhood and consider education and lay the grounds for a brain-healthy lifestyle. [Also], we think weight and other such factors work mainly by decreasing blood flow to the brain and increasing insulin resistance so the brain is bathed in excess sugar. [Finally], it is biologically plausible that depression creates dementia risk because it affects stress hormones, neuronal growth factors, and hippocampal volume.” 

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